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September 2009

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


An Interview with Judge Michael S. Kanne: Are Judges at Greater Risk?

Judge Michael S. Kanne (7th Cir.), a federal judge since 1982, was appointed chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security in 2008. Judicial security tops his, and his Committee’s concerns.

Q: The Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security is a relatively new Conference Committee. What is its jurisdiction and why was it formed?

A: The Committee was established as a separate entity from the Space and Facilities Committee in October 2005 to place greater importance on judicial security. This followed the murders of Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother in February 2005. Initially we had seven Committee members; it has now expanded to include representation from all circuits.

The Committee’s jurisdiction is to:

  • Review, monitor, and propose policies to the Conference regarding the security of the federal Judiciary including protection of court facilities and proceedings, protection of judges and their immediate family members;
  • Protect personal information of judges and their immediate family members against public disclosure on the Internet in ways that could pose a security threat to those individuals; and
  • Monitor the coordination of emergency preparedness in the Judiciary, which includes crisis response and continuity-of-operations planning.

Q: The Committee is currently addressing security issues that have arisen along the Southwest border. Can you talk about what those issues are, and what is being done to enhance court and judicial security there?

A: Judges who hold court in districts along the Mexican border expressed concern over the threat of what is described as “spillover” violence. Judge Nancy F. Atlas of the Southern District of Texas (a subcommittee chair of the Security Committee), Judge Rob Junell of the Western District of Texas, and 5th Circuit Chief Judge Edith Hollan Jones brought the border judges concern to the attention of our Administrative Office security staff and me.

In response, within three weeks a security briefing was arranged, and in March of this year, I, together with our subcommittee chairs and AO security staff traveled to Houston. We had a day-long briefing for 25 federal judges from the Southwest border districts on their security concerns. Presentations were made by personnel from the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) and experts from the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

EPIC graphically described the violence between the Mexican drug trafficking cartels and the Mexican officials. Although there appears to be no immediate threat to federal judges, the increasing number of prosecutions of cartel members in the United States and the expansion of cartel operations into the United States creates a significant potential risk of intimidation or retaliation against federal judges.

The President recently signed the Fiscal Year 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Bill which, among other things, included funding to help the Judiciary and the USMS address the most urgent requirements associated with the Southwest border situation.

Q: What is the Perimeter Security Pilot Project? Why was it undertaken? And what is its current status?

A: The Perimeter Security Pilot Project was initiated in 2007. That is when the Judicial Conference endorsed a recommendation by the Security Committee that the USMS test the feasibility of having it assume all federal protective service perimeter security responsibilities at seven primary courthouses.

The Federal Protective Service (FPS), which was initially part of the General Services Administration and ultimately became a part of Homeland Security, is statutorily charged with the protection of all federal buildings—including buildings housing court operations. However, in primary courthouses—those federal buildings housing 75 percent or more court and court-related organizations—the FPS is responsible only for perimeter security. Congress also recently tasked the USMS with the protection of courthouses. Unfortunately, apart from the pilot project, the result is two separate lines of authority, or chains of command, for the protection of federal courthouses—the USMS command structure and the command structure of the FPS. Having two law enforcement agencies from two different executive branch departments diminishes the effective command and control over all components of the security program.

The Judicial Security Committee, together with the USMS and with the support of Congress, wanted to try a pilot project with a single line of authority, which would be the USMS. In the pilot program the USMS, through the use of Court Security Officers (CSOs) and electronic devices, has taken over perimeter security on a courthouse in each of the following districts: the Southern District of New York, the District of Arizona, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Eastern District of Michigan, and the Northern District of Illinois. The project is expected to last 12-18 months at each location.

The AO security staff and the Committee, together with the USMS, will evaluate how those projects are working.

Q: Both on-site and off-site security for judges is a major concern of your Committee. What about overall security in the courthouse? How does the Judiciary protect attorneys, litigants, and jurors?

A: Inside the courthouse, and with regard to judges, judicial staff, and jurors, security is the responsibility of the USMS. The CSOs are contract guards hired by the USMS to assist in carrying out that important job. The approximately 4,500 CSOs are very well-qualified individuals. They’re the ones who you’ll see in the blue coats operating the magnetometers and the X-ray machines, and in court for trials. By and large, CSOs are former civilian and military police. CSOs must pass background checks and meet medical qualifications to be employed, and then pass annual medical physicals—it’s a fairly high standard.

Q: What is your Committee’s interaction with the USMS? How would you characterize the relationship?

A: The Security Committee is one of the primary interfaces with the USMS. With regard to providing funds for all the Judiciary-related security, we work with the USMS on how best to use the funding that is appropriated for judicial security.

The Director of the USMS and/or select members of his executive staff attend all of our meetings and work closely with us on important security issues.

About the time our Committee was formed there was a change in the administration of the USMS and the new director, with the tragedy of Judge Lefkow’s family foremost in everyone’s mind, made judicial security a top priority of the USMS. The AO security staff and the Committee members can have frank discussions with the USMS, and it’s been a very transparent, very positive relationship.

Q: In your opinion, are judges at greater personal risk today than in the past?

A: I do believe that judges today are at a significantly greater risk than ever before, primarily due to two major factors: the heightened publicity regarding judicial appointments, and the increasing numbers of high-profile cases coming before the federal courts. The Internet also contributes to the increased personal risk.

Recently, three judges on the Court of Appeals on which I sit, were the subject of a blog by a man who explicitly—which is unusual—called for their killing because of an opinion they’d written. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago said they take threats to judges very seriously and they intend to prosecute him.

While some information can’t be removed from websites, the Committee has examined the type of information available on judges that is posted by local court websites and has cautioned the courts on the problems that having too much personal information readily available to the general public can create.

Since 1979, three federal judges have been murdered, and the USMS current estimate of the number of threats to judges is now up to 120 a month. Those threats need to be evaluated, and we encourage judges to present any threats they receive to their judicial security inspector—every district in the country has at least one judicial security inspector who is specifically responsible for dealing with judges’ issues and security. I know the tendency is to say, “Oh, that’s nothing,” but let the inspectors make the call. The USMS has a new threat assessment center at its DC headquarters and that’s what they do.

Q: New credentials are being issued to federal judges. Why? And what has been the reaction from judges?

A: The current credential carried by federal judges was created in 1996 and lacks most of the security features used on newer ID cards, such as an expiration date, a holographic-type image that makes the card more difficult to reproduce, and other tamper-resistant features.

Judge Henry Hudson (E.D. Va.), who is a former director of the USMS, happens to be chairman of our subcommittee on off-site security and he undertook the task with our AO security staff to work with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to make sure that our newly issued credentials meet their requirements for use at airports. Now judges’ credentials are in full compliance with TSA’s regulations for use as the sole form of identification at airports. Generally, the new credentials have been well received, but I understand some judges occasionally have problems. It’s a matter of familiarizing TSA screeners with the new credentials.

Q: What initiatives does the Committee have under way to educate judges on ways to enhance their security when away from the courthouse?

A: The Committee is actively involved in looking into ways to educate judges on the subject of security. The Committee recently oversaw the development of a judicial security awareness video called “Project 365: Security Starts with You.” It was produced by the AO in partnership with the USMS. Judge Hudson was the primary mover on the video. The video encourages judges and their family members to be aware of and practice personal security every day of the year. Copies of the DVD will be sent out to all judges later this year. The USMS also has made copies available within the federal, state, and local law enforcement communities and for associated training programs.

Q: What issues or projects do you see in the future for your Committee?

A: Our Committee is addressing a number of projects. We have the Facility Access Card (FAC) project. This is the Judiciary’s version of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-12 program to provide federal employees with a uniform identification card to enter federal buildings. As a resident in Director Duff’s new Leadership Program, David Crews, the clerk of court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, will help to implement this program. Crews began work on the project in August.

We also have the matter of CSO contracting issues. This came about because of a problem with one particular CSO vendor in the 3rd, 5th and D.C. circuits that was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in March 2008, leaving the Judiciary’s Court Security account holding losses of several million dollars and individual CSOs also losing money. The Committee has worked with the USMS to develop stronger pre- and post-award procedures so the chances that another CSO vendor will go bankrupt will be mitigated.

There is Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning/Emergency Preparedness. For example, with the H1N1 swine flu and other epidemic/pandemic events, along with floods and earthquakes, the ability of court personnel to work remotely will be increasingly important. The Committee plans to be proactive in helping courts across the country implement and test their COOP and emergency preparedness plans.

Our Committee also is working on the issue of after-hours protection. That’s a very expensive proposition. It is a sensitive issue that has to balance cost-effectiveness and security.