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August 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


New Committee Attuned to Security Concerns

Judge David B. Sentelle was appointed chair of the new Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security in 2005. In his career, Sentelle has served as an assistant U.S. attorney, a state court judge on the North Carolina General Courts of Justice, a federal district judge in the Western District of North Carolina, and since 1987, he has been a judge on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Q: The Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security is the newest Conference committee. Why was the Committee formed?

A: The Judicial Conference, in 2005 after the murders of the Lefkow family, declared an emergency in judicial security and established this Committee dedicated solely to ensuring that the courts and judges are provided with adequate security.

Q: The jurisdiction statement for your Committee includes responsibility for coordinating the Judiciary’s Emergency Preparedness Program and for Internet security. Can you talk about what responsibility for these areas will entail?

A: Emergency Preparedness, of course, came to our full attention because disasters like Hurricane Katrina create the same sort of emergencies for judicial life and limb and for personnel and facilities as judicial security problems in general. We think that in order to prevent security dangers from arising from those types of disasters, every court needs an emergency disaster plan in place. For example, the Eastern District of Louisiana did a great job in the horrible emergency they had in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There ought to be plans in place and we want to encourage and assist in that sort of preparation.

The Internet—while in a sense a technology issue—still exposes judges and their families to security concerns. It’s scary how much you can find out about yourself or someone else on the Internet. We thought it was necessary to begin an educational initiative—including selfhelp steps judges can take to protect themselves—and also to explore state and federal legislative remedies to help judges and everyone else protect their private information on the Internet.

I caution that we are not going to find an easy way to keep personal information off the Internet or remove it once it’s there. There is going to be no easy or perfect way, but we will try to help the judges, as much as possible, in keeping their personal information private.

Q: How do judges and the court family learn about security?

A: First thing, when anybody is nominated for a judgeship, they receive a joint briefing from the U.S. Marshals Service and Administrative Office security personnel as part of the confirmation preparation process. But the best way—or the most persuasive way—in which new judges are going to learn about security will be from current judges and court personnel. If a court’s current judges are actively engaged in security, then the new judges will learn from them. If not, then they’ll learn sloppy practices. We need to get everybody attuned to security concerns, in order to keep it passing from generation to generation.

Our Committee works with the AO and the U.S. Marshals Service on initiatives to make security information readily available. We have used, and will continue to use, the Federal Judicial Television Network. We are overseeing the production of a new security orientation video to be shown to judicial nominees when they’re in Washington. And we hope to use something similar with reference to communication to the circuit judicial conferences and other meetings of judges around the country.

Q: A program to install home intrusion detection systems in the homes of federal judges will provide increased judicial security outside of courthouse facilities. A national contract to install the systems was awarded by the U.S. Marshals Service in December 2005, and installations began in February 2006. What is the status of the home intrusion detection systems program?

A: The U.S. Marshals Service tells us they’ve installed 97 percent of the 1,584 systems that were requested, so we feel like we’re in good shape on that. This has not gone without problems. It’s just a big task, but I think it’s going well. We hope to have the remaining 3 percent installed during this fiscal year. Funds are included in the U.S. Marshals Service budget to continue the program through FY 2008 for newly appointed judges and for judges who change residences.

The actual installation and physical monitoring is done by a U.S. Marshal Service contractor, and the Marshals Service is the interface between the contractor and the judge.

Q: How does your Committee interact with the U.S. Marshals Service?

A: We’re on very good terms with the U.S. Marshals Service at the present time. John Clark, the current director, has been very cooperative. He is an experienced U.S. Marshal Service employee who has been a chief deputy and a U.S. Marshal himself. And he has been in close touch with the Committee. We invite him and he attends our biannual meetings. We jointly testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on H.R. 660, the “Court Security Improvement Act of 2007.” He and I stay in touch in between meetings by phone and email on a very regular basis. He has been very attuned to our concerns and has tried very hard to meet them.

Q: During the Judiciary’s Senate appropriations hearing, the Judicial Conference representative was asked to comment on reports that perimeter security provided by the Federal Protective Service (FPS) has not been maintained or repaired in courthouses. Is there a problem with FPS, and if so, how is the Judiciary resolving it?

A: We are trying to work with Senator Richard Durbin (DIL), who asked the question, and with other members of Congress. We really haven’t been satisfied with the service received from the FPS since they were transferred from the General Services Administration to the Department of Homeland Security. And they have their own problems of acclimation.

But, you know, they don’t receive an appropriation from Congress. They rely on reimbursements from tenant agencies and they’re not very forthcoming as to what it is we’re paying for. We’re not, in every instance, getting what we’re paying for. FPS has been unable to repair or replace some perimeter security cameras and monitors due to insufficient resources. We’ve had vulnerable courthouses for that reason. The U.S. Marshals Service has had to replace the equipment even though it’s not their responsibility or in their budget.

We’ve addressed these concerns by endorsing, and the Judicial Conference has adopted, a recommendation that the FPS be made a direct appropriation agency and that the U.S. Marshals Service, by administrative or legislative means, assume the FPS security functions in primary courthouses. That would not help us in multi-tenant federal buildings, but at least it would solve some of the problems. The U.S. Marshals Service has proposed a pilot program of seven primary courthouses to test the feasibility of them assuming these functions. I don’t know how much of the pilot program will go into effect, but at least we’ll have something to work with in having the U.S. Marshals Service take over a lot of the FPS functions.

Senator Durbin, as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government has met with AO Director Duff and the directors of the U.S. Marshals Service and the FPS. He’s been a lot of help to us and we have hopes of improving the situation.


Q: The Federal Protective Service, Court Security Officers (CSOs), USMS—how do these all interrelate in providing security to the federal Judiciary?

A: It’s going to vary between primary courthouses and multi-tenant buildings, as to the FPS’s responsibility. But historically, at your primary courthouse the FPS responsibility is principally for the perimeter and the U.S. Marshals Service—working either directly with or through the CSOs—is responsible more for the interior security. Over time, however, we have seen the U.S. Marshals Service play a greater role in providing all security services at primary courthouses.


Q: A system of court security committees operates at the local court level. How do these committees interact with your Conference Committee?

A: The court security committees were established in the early 1980s. I think it was a 1982 recommendation contained in the report of the Attorney General’s Task Force on Judicial Security. The court security committees are responsible for assessing security districtwide. The chief district judge chairs the committee. The district’s U.S. Marshal is the principal coordinator.

Court security committees are associated with primary courthouses— that is where the court, U.S. attorney’s office and/or U.S. Marshals Service occupy three-quarters of the rentable square footage of the building. We hear anecdotally that some of the district committees are very active and engaged; others either don’t meet or only rarely meet. We encourage the use of the district court security committees as liaison with the district’s U.S. Marshal and for dealing with district problems. We get some contacts that probably really ought to be handled within the district, so we encourage their use.


Q: Your Committee recently endorsed Judiciary participation in the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12. What is this Directive and what will participation mean for the Judiciary?

A: The Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-12) is an executive branch initiative that establishes a mandatory government-wide standard for security and reliable forms of identification cards—the personal identity verification card, PIV-ID in governmentspeak—that would be issued by the government to its employees and contractors, initially for identification purposes and eventually to gain access to government buildings. We are housed in federally controlled facilities, so although the directive does not cover us, if we don’t find a way to cooperate with it, we’re going to find ourselves shut out of the buildings we work in. We budgeted funds to provide the same kind of PIV-ID cards to judges and court personnel to comply with HSPD-12, even though we’re not covered by it.


Q: In your opinion, what is the greatest problem we face in terms of judicial security?

A: It’s very difficult to identify one problem. So we’ve created a Subcommittee on Strategic and Long-Range Planning to identify the areas where we need to assess the current security of the Judiciary, to determine where the Judiciary needs to be headed in the next 10 years, and how to accomplish that goal. They are interfacing with the U.S. Marshals Service and they’re also available for contact with any other source.

So, rather than identify a single problem, I would say we have a subcommittee working on that.