- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The shooting of a Texas judge in the driveway of her Austin home has exposed inconsistences statewide over how threats against the court system are handled and whether judges are made aware of potential danger, a newspaper reported Sunday.

State District Judge Julie Kocurek, who was shot in November and plans to keep her job, was never told about a threat made against her weeks earlier after investigators determined that a phoned-in tip wasn’t credible. Now the state plans to survey counties across Texas to determine what procedures, if any, authorities have for responding to threats, the Austin-American Statesman reported (https://atxne.ws/1lHJXp4 ).

Tracking threats made against Texas judges and prosecutors is murky because of loosely defined protocols that vary from place to place. There were five instances last year of threats made against a judge, court staff or juror in Texas, and while that was down from 18 instances in 2014, counties appear to be underreporting incidents despite a state law requiring them to do so.

“We are trying to get a sense of the situation so we can determine how to move forward,” said David Slayton, director for the Texas Office of Court Administration. “I think it has always been a concern, but certainly the events in November have brought it to the forefront.”

Authorities have identified a person of interest in Kocurek’s shooting but haven’t charged anyone. Kocurek hasn’t said when she will return to the bench but has filed for re-election.

At the federal level, the U.S. Marshals Service investigated 768 threats and inappropriate communications last year, according to the agency. A 2005 courthouse shooting in Atlanta that killed a judge prodded Texas lawmakers to pass a law requiring authorities to report threats against the court system to the state, but experts say counties appear to be ignoring that rule.

Practices appear to differ even among the biggest Texas counties. Harris County assigns detectives to look into threats and notify judges if they appear in danger, spokesman Thomas Gilliland said. Dallas County, meanwhile, handles threats on a “case by case” basis and judges are often left to decide whether they want to open a full investigation, according to spokeswoman Melinda Urbina.

How authorities should proceed with a threat should begin with assessing the informant’s credibility, said Frederick Calhoun, who created a process used by the U.S. Marshals Service to assess threats against federal judicial officials.

“If I thought the threat was not credible, why bother the judge?” Calhoun said.

A gunman opened fire on Kocurek at her home on Nov. 6 after she returned from a high school football game. She hasn’t spoken publicly about the attack.

Slayton said the upcoming survey by his office also will seek information about the type of protection judges have at work and home.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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