Federal Judges Get More Home Security
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Federal judges across the country are getting new security systems installed in their homes this summer. Congress approved spending nearly $12 million for the alarm systems and other security upgrades for judges.
Last year, the husband and mother of a Chicago judge were murdered, by a man who was unhappy with her ruling in his case. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER reporting:
After the murders of their colleague's husband and mother, life changed a bit for Chicago judges Sheila O'Brien and Wayne Anderson.
Mr. WAYNE ANDERSON (Chicago Federal District Court Judge): It's made every judge I know, substantially more security conscious.
SCHAPER: Anderson is a federal district court judge in Chicago. In the same courthouse is Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, whose husband and mother were killed. Anderson's wife, O'Brien, is an Illinois appellate court judge.
Ms. SHEILA O'BRIEN (Illinois Appellate Court Judge): People now know the judge's of the world's dirty little secret. And the dirty little secret is we all have people who've stalked us, and followed us, and write us crazy letters. And, you know, we all tend to accept that as part of the job.
SCHAPER: While they accept some risk, O'Brien and Anderson says the Lefkow tragedy reminds them of just how vulnerable their families might be because of their jobs. So they didn't hesitate when the U.S. Marshal Service offered to install this home security system.
(Soundbite of people discussing security system)
SCHAPER: So does that happen every time a door opens or closes?
Ms. O'BRIEN: And every window.
SCHAPER: Every window?
Ms. O'BRIEN: Every window too, yeah.
SCHAPER: These alarm systems are being installed in the homes of every federal judge who wants one - more than 2,000 nationwide. It follows harsh criticism of the Federal Marshal Service.
John O'Malley, assistant chief deputy for the U.S. Marshal Service in Chicago, acknowledges the agency is short-staffed. But he says that's changing. And O'Malley says the Marshal Service is devoting more resources to investigating potential threats to judges, including a soon-to-open, 24-hour a day intelligence center, in Washington.
Mr. JOHN O'MALLEY (Assistant Chief Deputy, U.S. Marshal Service, Chicago (Ill.)): So if happens on a Friday night, the deputy U.S. Marshals, who might be, you know, Omaha don't have to wait until Monday to get hold of somebody and then maybe react to it.
SCHAPER: And O'Malley says, the agency is opening better lines of communication with state and local courthouse security officials.
Mr. O'MALLEY: Lo and behold, we're finding that a lot of these individuals who are, you know, raising red flags in other jurisdictions, are raising red flags across the board.
SCHAPER: That was certainly the case with Bart Ross, the man who killed Judge Lefkow's husband and mother. After he killed himself, authorities found a hit list of other state and federal judges who also had ruled against him.
The Federal Judges Association, which lobbied Congress for the increased security funding, says it welcomes the security improvements. But some judges say it's still not enough.
Following last year's courtroom murder of a judge in Atlanta, and last month's shooting of a Nevada judge through a courthouse window, there are renewed calls for tighter security. And some judges remain concerned that there is too much personal information available online.
Judges O'Brien and Anderson, say they now think twice about even the most routine requests.
Ms. O'BRIEN: How about the school directory? I mean, you know, we want to communicate with our neighbors. Do we not put our names in the school directory and then no one can find us for the fundraiser, for the local gymnasium?
Mr. ANDERSON: The church directory.
Ms. O'BRIEN: The church directory. I mean, there's all kinds of things that you are always saying to yourself too, where's this going to go?
SCHAPER: The judges say they do feel marginally safer now, but they add, when it comes down to it, they mostly rely on their local police department for security at home, just like everyone else.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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