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May 2005

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


U.S. Marshals Service Resources Faulted by Federal Judiciary

The U.S. Marshals Service’s judicial security program is chronically understaffed and under-funded, a federal judge told Congress last month.

“The primary statutory duty of the Marshals Service is the protection of the Judiciary,” said Judge Jane Roth (3rd Cir.), who chairs the Judicial Conference Committee on Security and Facilities. “Yet, time and time again we have found that the Service does not have the resources necessary to fulfill this obligation.”

Judge Roth testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security on H.R. 1751, The Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act of 2005. The bill, introduced by Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) with co-sponsor Representative Anthony D. Weiner (D-NY), would increase penalties for threats against judges and courtroom personnel and provide for various security enhancements.

The subcommittee heard testimony from a panel of witnesses including Roth, Texas State Court Judge Cynthia Kent, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty from the Eastern District of Virginia, and U.S. Marshal John F. Clark, also from the Eastern District of Virginia.

In her testimony, Roth cited a 1982 report by the Government Accountability Office that said the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) cannot properly manage its responsibilities for both the executive and judicial branches.

Roth also noted that the Marshals Service never seems to get the resources it needs to get the job done.

She testified that at a recent meeting with the Attorney General, she had expressed concerns about leadership at the Marshals Service, the vacancies in several critical positions of great importance to the Judiciary at the Marshals Service, and the need for detailed information about Marshals Service staffing levels. She specifically referred to the USMS Office of Protective Intelligence, which handles threats against the Judiciary, and which is staffed by just three people. “At one point, these personnel did not even report to the individual responsible for judicial security at the Marshals Service,” she said. “Threat assessment cannot be a collateral duty. A focused, coordinated program with adequately trained personnel needs to be a priority.”

Requests to examine staffing levels have not been honored, according to Roth, and requests by the Judiciary to participate in the determination of adequate staffing levels have been denied.

“The Department of Justice refuses to share any information about Marshals Service staffing levels and formulas or to consider suggestions for change with us,” said Roth.

“Although we have not been privy to actual staffing allocations by judicial district, many U.S. Marshals report to us that their staffing levels have been significantly reduced. Some Marshals tell us that the districts are operating up to 30 percent below the number of Deputy Marshals needed to perform all of the local Marshal’s responsibilities adequately.”

Roth told the subcommittee that the Judiciary has made three attempts over the last four years to establish a working group with DOJ to address both on- and off-site security needs of the judicial branch. The Attorney General now has established a working group within DOJ to make recommendations on judicial security by the end of May 2005.

“We greatly appreciate the Attorney General’s efforts,” said Roth, noting, however, that the Judiciary is not a standing member of the group, nor is the group specifically focused on security for judges and their families.

“Based on past history,” said Roth, “I am hopeful, but not confident, that this working group will provide useful advice to the Department of Justice and the Marshals Service. Unfortunately, it is almost two months since the tragic deaths of Judge Lefkow’s family members, and the Judiciary still does not know what specific plans the Marshals Service and the Department have for addressing our concerns.”

Representative William D. Delahunt (D-MA) congratulated Roth on her candid testimony, and called the lack of consultation by the Marshals Service on judicial security “unconscionable.”

“. . . I would hope that the gentleman from Texas [Gohmert] would consider an amendment [to H.R. 1751],” he said, “that would mandate not just consultation, but a needs assessment for the entire federal Judiciary in a report to Congress, to this Judiciary Committee, to ensure that a plan is implemented both with funding and the resources necessary.”

To assist the Judiciary, Roth, on behalf of the Judicial Conference, asked the subcommittee to:

  • support a request by the Judiciary for $12 million in funding that would provide a comprehensive package of off-site security equipment for all judges;
  • support legislation that would require consultation and coordination by both the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service regarding security requirements for the judicial branch;
  • support legislation that would establish greater penalties for the recording of malicious liens against federal judges—liens filed in an effort to intimidate or harass a judge who has presided over a criminal or civil case involving the filer, or otherwise acted against the interests or perceived interests of the filer, his family, or his acquaintances;
  • support firearms training for judges;
  • support a statutory change that would provide emergency authority to conduct court proceedings outside the territorial jurisdiction of a court, a need that may arise following a natural disaster or terrorist attack, when court operations may be more readily and safely conducted in an adjoining district or circuit; and
  • support legislation that would provide permanent authorization to redact information from financial disclosure reports that could endanger the filer and without which authority certain personal information, not otherwise widely available, may be publicized.

Judge Jane Roth’s complete hearing testimony can be found at www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/hearing.pdf.