A spate of frightening threats against U.S. judges

A number of stories in the last few days have revealed a disturbing collection of verbal threats to judges, many occurring in the courtroom. Happily, no one was harmed, and the perpetrators have been charged and/or convicted. But yikes. Even accounting for the mental and emotional imbalance of those making the threats, no one should have to tolerate this in his or her workplace.

Death threats against Bosnian judges

Two senior judges in Bosnia received threatening text messages over the weekend.

Ranko Debevec, president of the Court of Bosnia and Herzeoginva, which handles cases of war crimes, terrorism and organised crime, told BIRN he received a text message that began with the word ‘fatwa’, a ruling on Islamic law.

The message accused him of cooperating with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and said he had been sentenced to death.

Jadranka Lokmic-Misiraca, vice-president of Bosnia’s judicial overseer, received a similar death threat the same day.

Let’s hope that police officials take these threats seriously, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

 

Are more judges arming themselves in self-defense?

This story out of Toledo suggests that the answer is yes.

This trend is not entirely surprising, given the high-profile, violent attacks on judges in recent months. But it’s not at all clear whether–and how–concealed carry by judges would affect the regular work of courthouse security staff.

An interesting, and somewhat sad, development.

Connecticut family court judges under attack

This depressing story relates the brutal public invective that some family court judges in Connecticut have recently experienced–including a slew of anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic slurs. And it’s not just on social media. Opponents of the judges have erected vicious billboards on interstate highways, and have shown up to public hearings provocatively dressed to draw attention to their hatred of the judge.

The problem is compounded, first, by the nature of family court cases, which are often highly emotional and difficult. The well-accepted standard of doing what is in the “best interests of the child” is easy to state, but not to easy to apply. A second aggravating factor is the ongoing political fight between Connecticut’s legislators and Governor Dannel Malloy over judicial appointments and reappointments. And, of course, delays and court costs only add to the stress of the litigant experience.

So there is much room for improvement. But obviously no judge (indeed, no person) deserves to be attacked based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.

Venezuelan judge seeks refugee status in Canada

The swirling political and financial chaos in Venezuela has been closely coupled with the ongoing desecration of judicial independence by President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Now the evidence of that desecration is starting to gush out.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail has published a story on Venezuelan judge Ralenis Tovar, who fled to Canada with her family in July and is now claiming refugee status there. Judge Tovar alleges that as a judge in Caracas, she was forced to sign arrest warrants for Maduro’s political enemies.  She further claims that the Maduro government tapped her phones and even attempted to kidnap her daughter from school.

From the Globe and Mail interview:

On her way home from work on Feb. 12, 2014, Ms. Tovar received a series of phone calls from an unknown number. Assuming it was an inmate, she didn’t answer. Then the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court phoned and told her to pick up the calls. She did and was told to head back to the office.

Ms. Tovar said the court was surrounded by the National Guard and military intelligence officers when she arrived. She was greeted by four public prosecutors, who guarded her office’s door as she sat down.

She was given a folder with three arrest warrants inside. She said she didn’t recognize the first two names, but was shocked when she read the name on the third warrant: Leopoldo Lopez.

“I felt petrified because internally I knew what was the purpose of that warrant, which was to silence a political leader who was an obstacle for President Maduro,” Ms. Tovar said.

Given that it was 2 a.m., Ms. Tovar asked the prosecutors if she could review the warrant the next day. She said they laughed sarcastically and told her that if she didn’t sign it, she would end up like Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was allegedly raped in prison in 2010.

Terrified, Ms. Rovar signed Mr. Lopez’s arrest warrant.

Judicial independence and political freedom go hand in hand.  When one erodes, the other cannot be far behind.

More reaction to the Ohio courthouse shooting

More reaction today to the shooting of Judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of a Steubenville, Ohio courthouse on Monday morning:

Fox News: Under Siege, More Judges Choose to Arm Themselves for Protection.  This article contains some useful discussion from the outstanding researcher Bill Raftery of the National Center for State Courts.

WKBN: ‘We should carry guns,’ local judge says following Steubenville shooting.

WTOV: Judge was presiding over shooter’s civil litigation against housing authority.

And semi-relatedly, a 36-year-old Tennessee man has been charged with sending a letter to a local judge, threatening to kill him.

The judges among us — revisited

Yesterday, Judge Raymond Myles was shot and killed outside his home in Chicago’s Far South Side.  Police are still searching for a suspect and a motive, although it appears that his death may have simply been the result of attempted robbery.

We are attuned to stories of judges being threatened or attacked because of their profession.  And such threats, whether explicit or otherwise, are taken very seriously.  But this story, where it appears the victim just happened to be a judge, reminds us that members of the judiciary live among us.  When they take off their robes and leave the courthouse for the day, they are ordinary members of society with the same needs for food, clothing, security, and happiness as the rest of us.

Six years ago, after Judge John Roll was killed in the same Arizona shooting that terribly injured Gabby Giffords, I shared some similar thoughts.

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Judge Myles.