June 16, 2006 -- The shooting of a family court judge this week in Nevada points to an alarming phenomenon in which those involved in emotional and acrimonious cases are taking their frustrations out on the judges.
On Monday Nevada Family Court Judge Chuck Weller was shot in his office by a man he dealt with in a divorce case.
The suspect, Darren Mack, is a multmillionaire father of three whose relatives say was deeply upset over Weller's rulings in his divorce case.
"He felt that the financial remuneration that was awarded to his wife was totally unjust and unfair," said Mack's cousin, Jeff Donner.
Mack allegedly used a sniper's rifle to fire through the window of the judge's third-floor office window, shooting Weller in the chest. He was hospitalized and survived the shooting.
Later that day Mack's estranged wife, Charla Mack, was found dead in the garage of her home. Darren Mack was also charged for the slaying and remains a fugitive.
New Protections for Family Court Judges
Mack's campaign against Weller began months in advance, according to the judge's spokesman, who said the suspect found plenty of company in his frustrations on the Internet.
One blogger called the judge a terrorist. Another complained he was a bully and abusive. A third compared him to Hitler.
Family court judges across the country said, sadly, that such venom is not unusual. These courts are actually considered by many judges to be even more volatile than criminal courts because the plaintiffs have so much at stake -- custody, visitation rights, money -- and emotions are often at the breaking point.
"We draw the ire of some people who are incapable of thinking objectively because the pressures of divorce and custody matters sometimes drive them to the bitter end," said Judge Charles McGee.
In New York state, every family courthouse is now equipped with a day care center. The policy was put in place after a Brooklyn parole officer shot and killed his estranged wife in a courthouse hallway packed with children.
"We terminate parental rights sometimes, which is the equivalent of the death penalty in civil courts. That's not something that goes down very easy," said Judge Stephen Rubin, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
Many of the nation's courthouses have been made more secure since Sept. 11, 2001. Monday's shooting prompted the introduction of legislation to replace courthouse windows with bulletproof glass.
As for Weller, he survived the shooting but went straight from the hospital into hiding, where he's likely to remain until his attacker is caught.