Texas judge makes impassioned plea to Congress for improved security

Texas judge makes impassioned plea to Congress for improved security

May 29, 2024 -- State chief justices, U.S. senators also voice support for taking action to protect state court judges and their families.  After 16 years on the bench, Judge Julie Kocurek of Austin, Texas said she felt safe and secure in her daily routine.  But that sense of normalcy changed in a heartbeat. On November 6, 2015, Judge Kocurek and her teenage son, Will, were returning home from a high school sports event when a disgruntled litigant shot her multiple times in her vehicle outside of her home.

Judge Kocurek's Story

“The gunman had shot through the driver’s side window four times, from just four feet away. At that moment, I thought my life was over,” Judge Kocurek told a captivated room of close to 100 congressional staffers at a May 22 Capitol Hill briefing organized by NCSCand co-hosted by U.S. Senator Chris Coons (DE), U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), and U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (TX).

Judge Kocurek’s personal testimony—highlighting that she spent 40 days in hospital and had over 30 surgeries on her road to recovery—helped put a fine point on the risk taken daily by so many members of the state judiciary, and why federal action is essential to improve the safety of all judges and their families.

Three state court leaders—Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby (DC), Chief Justice Michael Boggs (GA), and Chief Justice Matthew Fader (MD)—joined Judge Kocurek for the briefing. The event also included remarks from U.S. Senators Chris Coons (DE) and Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Jonathan Mattiello of the State Justice Institute. Mike Buenger, NCSC’s executive vice president and COO, served as the moderator for the event.

The Countering Threats and Attacks on our Judges Act

Senator Coons is a lead sponsor of the bipartisan bill, titled the Countering Threats and Attacks on Our Judges Act, along with Senator John Cornyn, Representative Jackson Lee, and Representative McCaul. The legislation would create a State Judicial Threat and Intelligence Resource Center that will provide technical assistance to judges and court personnel around the country; provide physical security assessments; and coordinate research and collect data.

“Threats and attacks on judges can also lead to continued and increased judicial threats and attacks,” said Chief Justice Boggs of Georgia. “When people attempt to harm or kill a judge or their family member because of their position and the work they do, this emboldens others to do so as well.”

“While judges have always lived with a certain level of risk, we have never experienced risk on the scale that we currently see today,” said Chief Justice Fader of Maryland. “We are facing an entirely new threat environment that drives to the very heart of the rule of law and the fair administration of justice under law.”

Improving safety of judges, court staff

The event provided critical background as Congress considers legislation to improve the safety and security of the tens of thousands of state and local court judges, many of whom lack the resources or the training to provide for the security of themselves, their staffs, and their families.

“A safe and secure judiciary is vital to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that all judges are well-positioned to make fair and impartial rulings, and that their decisions cannot be influenced or changed by any threats, intimidation, or retaliation,” said Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby, president of the Conference of Chief Justices.

More information about the proposed legislation is available online. If your organization would like to sign on in support of this bill, please contact Chris Wu at NCSC at cwu@ncsc.org or 202-684-2629.

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