Four years after the husband and mother of a federal judge were murdered in their home by a disgruntled litigant, federal marshals have dramatically increased resources dedicated to judicial security to keep pace with an increased number of threats.
At a ceremony Tuesday, the U.S. Marshals Service highlighted the new efforts to protect federal judges and prosecutors. Since September 2007, the work has been coordinated out of a secure Threat Management Center at its headquarters in Crystal City.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow of Chicago prodded Congress to increase funding for security after her husband and mother were killed in 2005 by an unemployed electrician whose lawsuit had been thrown out. She had also received death threats from a white supremacist.
Judge Lefkow said at the ceremony that judicial security is “so much improved over what it was before. … I can only hope this will prevent another incident such as ours.”
The ceremony formally dedicated the Threat Management Center’s conference room in Judge Lefkow’s name and in memory of her husband, Michael Lefkow, and mother, Donna Humphrey.
The Marshals Service said its judicial security efforts have improved significantly the past few years, thanks in part to millions of dollars in new funding from Congress.
As recently as October 2007, the inspector general for the Justice Department faulted the Marshals Service’s efforts to investigate threats against judges, saying that two-thirds of all threats were not investigated until at least three days after they were made.
The backlog that had occurred before the Threat Management Center was established has since been eliminated, said Marshals Service spokesman David Turner.
The new center has increased staff and resources to investigate threats, said U.S. Marshal John Clark. It includes a top-level secure facility known as the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, which allows the marshals to receive and handle classified intelligence from a variety of law enforcement agencies, so that threat response and investigation can be coordinated.
Some judges can press a button on a device that alerts 911 dispatchers and provides their exact location to the threat management center. Hundreds of judges have also received home security systems with $12 million in federal funds appropriated shortly after the Lefkow shooting.
Michael J. Prout, the Marshal Service’s assistant director for judicial security, said the agency investigated nearly 1,300 threats against judges last year, roughly double the number just five years previously.
Mr. Prout said tax protesters and militia groups have issued numerous threats in recent years, but the increased number also reflects more awareness from judges who no longer shrug off menacing letters as part of the job.
Kim Widup, U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, said the Lefkow shootings have impressed upon everyone the need to take threats seriously.
“Before it happens, it exists in our minds as ‘It could happen.’ Once it actually happens, it strikes home for all of us,” he said.