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Federal judges ask Congress for safety protections

By Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON - The federal courts want Congress to spend $524 million and pass legislation to bolster safety measures for judges at home and at the courthouse, including legislation to make it a crime for anyone to refuse a request to take down a judge's personal information from the internet.

The U.S. Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for the federal court system, detailed those requests for fiscal 2021 spending in letters to the House and Senate Appropriations and Judiciary committees this month.

The conference asked for $7.2 million for the U.S. Marshals Service to install home-intrusion detection systems at 2,400 primary residents of federal judges, as well as $2 million annually to maintain new systems that have video and recording applications as well as mobile control and monitoring.

The U.S. courts also want Congress to spend $250 million to hire 1,000 deputy U.S. marshals for the security of judges and court operations, and $267 million for the Federal Protective Service to upgrade video surveillance systems at 650 courthouses and federal buildings that house judicial activities.

"We've had long-standing concerns in the judiciary regarding these cameras," U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan, chair of the Judicial Conference's executive committee, said Tuesday at a media briefing. "Specifically, lack of a strategy for timely repair. There are many inoperable cameras."

The requests come after a gunman attacked the family of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey in July, killing her 20-year-old son and wounding her husband.

 

The House has approved, as part of a broad spending package, $664 million - a $25 million increase above this year to support security needs and protective services in courthouses. Senate appropriators have not yet released drafts of their spending bills for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Last month, the conference announced it would seek legislation to protect judges' personally identifiable information, particularly on the internet, and develop a U.S. Marshals Service program to monitor whether that information is available and react.

"Four federal judges and three family members have been killed since 1979," senior U.S. Circuit Judge David W. McKeague, who heads the Judicial Conference's security committee, said in a press release about the conference's semiannual meeting Tuesday. "These horrific tragedies must stop."

In letters to the Judiciary committees this month, the U.S. Courts urged Congress to pass legislation that would force a person, business or agency to remove the personal information of federal judges from public records within 48-72 hours of getting a request to do so.

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