The New York County Lawyers Association (“NYCLA”) supports the passage of the New York State Judicial Security Act (the “Judicial Security Act”), which would enact measures to increase the safety and security of judges and court officials and their immediate families.
The Judicial Security Act would strengthen the safety and security of New York state and federal judges and other court personnel by protecting their personally identifiable information from public view, including addresses, information about family members, and financial data. Among other provisions, the Judicial Security Act:
Provides a means by which the personally identifiable information of active and former judges, nonjudicial court personnel, and the immediate families of judges and nonjudicial court personnel can be kept from public display;
Prevents persons, businesses, associations, and public and private agencies having such information from publicly posting it or sharing or trading it with others;
Creates a process through which active and former judges and nonjudicial court personnel, and their families can use the judicial process to cause the removal of their personally identifiable information that continues to be publicly displayed in violation of the Judicial Security Act;
Clarifies the Penal Code provision prohibiting an assault on a judge to define “judge” to include actively employed and former judges and justices of the State’s Unified Court System, and actively employed and former federal judges and magistrate judges sitting or who previously sat in New York; and
Increases the punishments for threats and crimes against active and former judges.
The legislation is needed to preserve the ability of the state and federal judges and nonjudicial court personnel that serve New York residents to decide matters that come before them without fear of reprisal or physical harm to themselves or their families.
The ability of judges and nonjudicial court personnel to carry out the administration of justice and operations of our state and federal courts without fear of reprisal is essential to the functioning of our judicial system and civil society. Sadly, however, there is a long history of acts of violence and threats against federal and state judges and other court personnel, including acts of violence against judges sitting in New York State.
By way of example, in 1987, Chief Judge Charles J. Brieant of the Southern District of New York was targeted by a disgruntled former litigant who mailed a poisoned box of chocolates to Judge Brieant’s home address to arrive on Friday, February 13, along with a Valentine’s Day card. Judge Brieant’s wife, believing them to be a gift, ate the chocolates, lost consciousness, and was later discovered and rushed to a hospital, where she remained for four days. In 1988, while gardening at his home in Pelham, New York, Judge Richard Daronco of the Southern District of New York was assassinated by the father of a pro se plaintiff. On July 19, 2020, a man posing as a FedEx delivery driver invaded the home of Judge Esther Salas, a United States District Judge in New Jersey, and opened fire, critically wounding her husband, Mark Anderl, and killing their 20-year-old son, Daniel. The gunman had argued a case before Judge Salas and used publicly available information to create a dossier of the judge. In the wake of this tragedy, Judge Salas later made a personal, public plea for greater privacy protections for federal judges. In 2022, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge John Pier Roemer, Jr., was murdered in his home by a litigant that Judge Roemer had sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment in 2005—approximately 17 years before the assassination.
Unfortunately, the last several years have seen a significant rise in threats against judges and court personnel. To give just a partial picture of this increase, the United States Marshals Services, which is responsible for protecting federal courts, recently reported that threats and inappropriate communications directed at federal judges and other court personnel has risen 387% in recent years, from 926 incidents in 2015 to 4,511 in 2021. Similarly, in one high profile New York State civil case, it has been widely reported that the judge presiding over that case and his staff have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemail messages, and emails just within the past few months.
This situation is not unique to the federal judiciary or one high-profile case in New York State court. Many judges and other court personnel regularly live under threats of violence. They increasingly are targeted by individuals who have obtained detailed personal information about them, their families, and friends, and then disseminate that information in an effort to incite others to violence. And the widespread use of the internet and social media has given more people easy access to the personally identifiable information of judges, nonjudicial court personnel, and their families. In addition, the practice of “doxing,” or disseminating an individual’s personally identifiable information online in an act of revenge, and engaging in other forms of cyberbullying, has become alarmingly common in our society. All of this has exponentially increased the risks faced by our judges and other court personnel in the performance of their duties, creating the need for additional legislation to combat these risks and to protect judges, court personnel, and their families.
The Judicial Security Act represents a comprehensive effort to ensure that New York State does not fail to meet the legitimate need for increased judicial security.
The safety of our judges, other court personnel, and their families is essential to the fair and efficient administration of justice. An independent judiciary in which judges can render decisions and court personnel can carry out the business of our state and federal courts without fear of harassment, retribution or violence is essential to the integrity of our democracy. Indeed, the targeting and intimidation of judges undercuts the very pillars of the rule of law.
It is NYCLA’s position that New York State, following the lead of other states and the federal government which have passed legislation promoting increased judicial security, should adopt the Judicial Security Act. Additional protections are needed to enhance the safety and security of judges and court personnel and their families given the unprecedented availability and increasing ease of public access to their personally identifiable information and the recent dramatic rise in threats to judges and other court personnel. NYCLA believes that the Judicial Security Act’s narrowly tailored provisions strike the appropriate balance between the additional safeguards that are essential to increase judicial safety and security, and the importance of the transparency and accountability of the judiciary.
For the foregoing reasons, NYCLA strongly supports passage of the Judicial Security Act
About the New York County Lawyers Association
The New York County Lawyers Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as one of the first major bar associations in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
 Congressional Research Service, Security of the Federal Judiciary: Background and Recent Congressional Legislation (June 17, 2022), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11947.
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