A story on CNN right now describes how the number of threats against federal judges has more than doubled in the past five years, from 500 in 2003 to 1,278 in 2008.
In response to the rise in threats, the U.S. Marshals Service has opened up a threat management center to sift through the all the questionable communications with judges and determine which are legitimate threats and which are simply inappropriate expressions of opinion. If a real threat exists, the Marshals will take appropriate steps to
address it. U.S. District Court Judge for Washington D.C. Reggie
Walton, for example, has a camera surveillance system at his house,
courtesy of the Marshals.
Judge Walton blames increasing
partisanship in the US for the rise in threats against judges, and
thinks the verbal attacks that talk show hosts engage in contribute to
the problem. (I totally understand where he's coming from - listening
to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck certainly makes me want to go out and kill someone . . . )
judges aren't waiting around for the authorities to step in and protect
them, either. Many judges have started packing heat in order to stay
safe on the job.
In several states (not just Texas!), judges
are explicitly permitted to carry guns into the courtroom. Others
simply do it on the sly.
One judge in Florida even told a
defense attorney that he was "locked and loaded" - as if it isn't
stressful enough to face a judge without knowing that he's armed to the
teeth and not afraid to let you know about it.
The judge was ordered into a mentoring program.
I was a little surprised that the number of credible threats against
judges isn't higher. After all, any time a judge makes a ruling, at
least one party will disagree with the decision. Given that a good
number of these disgruntled individuals are hardened criminals, I would
expect that threats of violence against judges would be even more
common than the numbers suggest.
I suppose that's an indication
that the U.S. Marshals have been doing their job. After all, if
everyone thinks that judges are untouchable, it's just as good as
actually making the judges untouchable. If most people who harbor a
grudge for a judge feel certain that they'll be caught if they threaten
or attempt to harm a judge, then very few of the sane and rational ones
will go through with it.
As always, though, it's the crazies you really have to worry about.
See Also: More Judges Packing Pistols in Courtrooms (Law.com)