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NCSC supports new legislation to protect state court judges from escalating threats

NCSC supports new legislation to protect state court judges from escalating threats

NCSC and judicial partners support new legislation designed to assist state courts in addressing escalating threats of violence against judges, court staff, and the public.

The Countering Threats and Attacks on Our Judges Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress last week to protect the estimated 30,000 judicial officers serving in state and local courts.

The bipartisan bill will establish a State Judicial Threat Intelligence and Resource Center - housed within the existing State Justice Institute - to provide technical assistance, training, and monitoring of threats for state and local judges and court personnel; provide physical security assessments; and coordinate research to identify, examine, and advance best practices around court security.

The legislation—Senate Bill 3984— is co-sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Escalating threats and violence

The legislation comes on the heels of a surge in both threats and actual acts of violence against judges across America.

In 2021, individuals protected by the U.S. Marshals Service—including federal judges, prosecutors, and court officials—faced over 4,500 threats, a 400% increase since 2015.

In Texas, 522 general threats, 29 assaults, and 68 bomb threats were made toward judicial officers from 2018 to 2023, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration.

“No judge in America should have to keep an eye over their shoulder when they pick up their kids from school or go to the grocery store,” said NCSC President Mary McQueen. “This bill will help keep safe the men and women who uphold the rule of law. It is a vital step in ensuring the integrity of our judicial system.”

One judge's personal experience

Texas Judge Julie Kocurek supports the legislation. She reflects on the horror of her 2015 assassination attempt in a recent Houston Chronicle OpEd.

"A defendant who appeared in my courtroom weeks before shot and seriously wounded me in my car. My 15-year-old son watched the attack unfold, coming face to face with the gunman. My attacker obtained my home address, phone number, and the make and model of my vehicle from online searches, and he stalked me and my family for weeks," recalls Judge Kocurek.

"I lived in fear that my attacker, or someone else, would come to finish the job or harm my family. I was determined to fight against fear and intimidation, so I returned to the bench after I recovered."

Because of the attack, in 2017, the Texas Legislature passed the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act, which requires local law enforcement to report judicial security incidents to the Texas Office of Court Administration. It also created a filing fee to fund training for judges and court staff and a special division to house information on judicial security.

Judicial partners support legislation

In addition to NCSC, the bill is supported by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), and other judicial organizations.

“This legislation is a critical first step to helping increase the safety of every state court judge, our staffs, and the public we serve,” said Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, president of CCJ and the top judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

“In just the last several years, we have seen sitting state court judges, retired judges, and family members threatened, assaulted, and even killed by disgruntled people,” said Greg Sattizahn, president of COSCA and South Dakota state court administrator. “This is a very needed step, and we are all grateful that Congress recognizes the need.”

Read the NCSC press release.

NCSC partners with a top-ranking podcast to promote the work of state courts

NCSC has partnered with the Lady Justice: Women of the Court podcast to showcase and support the work of state courts. Justices Rhonda Wood of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Beth Walker of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia co-host the monthly podcast and discuss their roles as women justices in their respective state supreme courts and the real-world implications of the justice system and judiciary.

The endeavor began in 2020 after recording a podcast for a school project for Justice Wood's granddaughter. The recording inspired the women to create their own podcast, which has now become one of the top 20 ranked court podcasts.

The first podcast episode of the new partnership features Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and current president of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ).

During the episode, the women of the court discuss CCJ's collaborative efforts, including past initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist courts and current efforts to build public trust. Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby emphasizes the importance of judicial leadership and community involvement beyond the courtroom.

Lady Justice: Women of the Court is available on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, YouTube, and other podcasting apps.