Report: Judicial Security Programs Languishing

With hundreds of threats hurled their way each year, federal judges rely on protection from the U.S. Marshals Service — but a new Justice Department report found that the service has not adequately followed up on intended reforms in providing protection to judges, despite an increase in the number of threats since 2004.

"We believe that, to fulfill its critical mission of protecting the federal judiciary, the U.S. MS must exhibit a greater sense of urgency in implementing its plans for improving its capability to assess reported threats, creating and sharing protective intelligence on potential threats, and completing the implementation of enhanced security measures," concluded the inspector general's report released Wednesday.

The Marshals Service is responsible for protecting about 2,200 federal judges, and more than 5,500 staffers and jurors at more than 400 court facilities nationwide.

In a statement, Inspector General Glenn Fine said, "Given the importance of the issue of judicial protection, and the threats to federal judges in the past, we believe that the Marshals Service should move quickly to implement its plans to improve the protection of the federal judiciary."

The issue of judicial security gained attention in 2005 when U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow found both her husband and mother shot to death in her house outside Chicago. Lefkow had presided over the trial of a white supremacist, and had previously received several threats related to the case.

According to the inspector general's review, 2,018 threats were reported to the Marshals Service in fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

In 2006 alone, "684 inappropriate communications or threats were directed toward federal judges, 162 were directed at U.S. attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys, and 265 were directed at other U.S. MS protectees," the report states.

Wednesday's report was a follow-up to a 2004 report on judicial security, and revealed that, two years later, in 2006, the Marshals Service had a backlog of cases.

The Justice Department's report determined that, since the "March 2004 report, through early 2007, the U.S. MS's efforts to improve its capabilities to assess reported threats and identify potential threats, languished."

The report also found that "timeliness standards for conducting threat assessments, and over half of the threats reported by U.S. MS districts, were never assessed, resulting in a backlog of 1,190 'pending' threats awaiting assessment as of Oct. 1, 2006."

Following this period, the Marshals Service redirected assets to clear the backlog.

"By May 2007, the [Marshals Service] had eliminated the backlog of pending threat assessments. The additional resources also enabled the U.S.MS to assess new threat reports more quickly during the first half of FY 2007," the inspector general found.

The Marshals Service concurred with many of the report's findings.

In an attachment to the report, director of the Marshals Service, John Clark, noted, "The primary mission of the U.S. MS is to protect the judiciary. The U.S. MS takes this responsibility seriously and with a vigilant sense of urgency. We have improved the way we investigate and analyze threats to the judiciary, making it a priority for the U.S. MS in FY 2007 and, again, in 2008."