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February 2012

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Committee Works to Increase Security Awareness

Judge Nancy F. Atlas (S.D. Tex.)

Judge Nancy F. Atlas (S.D. Tex.)

Judge Nancy F. Atlas was named chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security in 2011. A long-time member of the Committee, she is the former chair of the Committee’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee and its Long-Range Planning Subcommittee. Atlas is a district court judge in the Southern District of Texas (Houston Division), and was appointed to the bench in 1995.

You recently held your first meeting as chair of the Judicial Security Committee. What are your goals as chair?

First, I want to ensure that the Judiciary receives sufficient funding so that an adequate level of security is provided to judges, the rest of the court family, and members of the public while in our courthouses. The Committee respects the fact that this is a time of constrained budgets, but we need to avoid creating unnecessary risks for judges, either at courthouses or off-site.

Also, we want to continue to maintain an open and productive relationship with the United States Marshals Service, especially in regard to their provision of security-related services. Our relationship with the Marshals Service has grown strong over the years, and now we are working to enhance communications and information transfer.

Another goal is to provide sitting judges with educational programs that enhance their and their families’ awareness of security issues. Not only is the Committee developing teaching tools to explain strategies for judges and their families’ physical safety, but we are offering education about possible responses by judges to the serious risks that are posed from the Internet, social media, and other communication methods. We all need to be aware that once information is posted on the Internet, it is very difficult—if not impossible—to remove it completely. Education of judicial nominees and new appointees, therefore, is also critical.

I hope, in addition, that we can encourage our local court security committees to remain active, indeed become more active, in each district. Districts in this way will be prepared to address emergency situations, whether attributable to natural disasters or incidents intended to harm people at courthouses.

A judicial security committee hasn’t always been a stand-alone committee of the Judicial Conference. In your opinion, why is such a committee on Judicial Security needed?

The current Committee on Judicial Security was established on October 1, 2005. It is an outgrowth of the original standing Committee on Court Security that the Judicial Conference established in September 1987, with a mandate to oversee all court security matters. In 1993, the Executive Committee voted to merge the Committee with the Committee on Space and Facilities to create the Committee on Security and Facilities (CSF).

Following the murders of the husband and mother of Judge Joan Lefkow (N.D. Ill.) in 2005, and the murder of a state court judge in Georgia, the Judicial Conference approved division of the CSF Committee into two committees—one focused solely on judicial security matters, and the other addressing space and facilities issues.

As evident from our last Committee meeting agendas, the Committee addresses a wide range of issues. Some of the major items include the formulation and execution of the Judiciary’s Court Security appropriation; cost containment initiatives; legislative proposals that affect the way security services are provided to the courts; a review of the way the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) allocates court security officer positions to the districts; oversight of a comprehensive USMS business process re-engineering initiative to improve the way the USMS manages the funds provided by the Judiciary for court security officers and security equipment for courthouses; and the court-wide implementation of the Judiciary’s emergency preparedness program, which provides assistance to the courts in the areas of emergency preparedness, crisis response, and occupant emergency and continuity of operations planning.

Each court is requested to establish a local Court Security Committee. What is the role of these committees and how do they relate to your Judicial Conference Committee?

The establishment of a Court Security Committee (CSC) in each district was a cornerstone recommendation of the 1982 Report of the Attorney General’s Task Force on Court Security, which was endorsed by the Judicial Conference. The original charter of the CSCs was to meet regularly to review the status of existing security in the committee’s judicial district, discuss new or changing requirements generated by renovations or new offices, and resolve conflicts or competing requirements for limited security resources available to the districts. In September 2007, the Judicial Conference approved, upon recommendation of this Committee, the additional responsibility for “ensuring oversight of the court’s emergency preparedness program.”

The Security Committee ensures that the CSC membership is inclusive. Each court and court unit housed within the district has a representative, as well as the General Services Administration, the district U.S. Marshal, and the United States Attorney, among others. The Committee periodically distributes checklists and suggested agenda topics in an effort to ensure that the CSCs meet with sufficient frequency and remain focused on new and longstanding district-wide court security issues.

Your committee has ad hoc subcommittees. Can you tell us about them?

There are three ad hoc subcommittees: the On-Site Security Subcommittee, the Off-Site Security and Education Subcommittee, and the Budget and Finance Subcommittee.

The On-Site Security Subcommittee, chaired by Bankruptcy Judge Dana Rasure (N.D. Okla.), is responsible for addressing security issues at courthouses and in multi-tenant facilities housing court operations. This subcommittee is currently overseeing a comprehensive review of the Court Security Officer (CSO) staffing standards and the associated formula used to determine the number of CSOs allocated to each district.

Judge Henry Hudson (E.D. Va.) chairs the Off-Site Security Subcommittee. The subcommittee is responsible for responding to the Judiciary’s security issues when judges are away from court facilities, and for developing and presenting security-related educational outreach programs for judges. Work on Internet-related security matters and special concerns of our judges on the Southwest Border have been some of the focus over the last few years. Judge Hudson and the Off-Site Subcommittee have spearheaded the creation of and recent release of the video educational tool Project 365: Security Starts with You, and the follow-on Security Tips video series. The Subcommittee also works closely with the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to develop security related curricula for FJC-sponsored judicial training programs.

The Budget and Finance Subcommittee is chaired by Sixth Circuit Judge Karen Moore. That Subcommittee deals with the formulation and execution of the Judiciary’s Court Security appropriation. The security appropriation is used to fund court security officer positions and security systems and equipment of court-occupied space. Most of the funding is transferred annually to the U.S. Marshals Service, which is directly responsible for providing the security services. This appropriation also pays for security services provided to courts by the Federal Protective Service.

The ad hoc On-Site Subcommittee currently is reviewing staffing standards for Court Security Officers. What will that review accomplish?

The CSO staffing standards define the duties performed by CSOs. The CSOs are mandated to provide adequate security at court facilities under the supervision of the USMS. Primary CSO duties involve entry screening, control room monitoring, and roving patrols. These categories encompass various CSO security functions needed by courts. The CSO standards initially were developed in the early1990s. The Committee and the USMS Director believe that a review in light of current courthouse security challenges is appropriate. Also, the review is being performed at the direction of the Judicial Conference and its Budget Committee as a possible cost-containment initiative. In FY 2012, 83 percent, i.e., $351 million, of the Judiciary’s Court Security appropriation is devoted to the CSO program.

The staffing standards review is being undertaken by a joint USMS/Judiciary Working Group to validate the adequacy and appropriateness of the duties CSOs are currently performing. Judges from our Committee are very much involved in this process. The Working Group also plans to look at other CSO functions not captured in the current standards but which may be legitimate security requirements. This identification and validation of duties will be a major determinant of the cost of providing CSO staffing for a facility and, by extension, the funding needed for the program nationally.

Judges’ physical safety has long been a security concern. How has personal security changed with electronic communications and the Internet Age?

The Internet and social media are having a profound impact. Prior to the advent of the internet and social media, threats to judges were in writing and sent through the mail, or were stated orally in court or telephone calls. Today, judges may receive threats by e-mail. More worrisome, however, are threats made in on-line blog posts or other electronic conversations through the Internet. Many of these threats are not communicated directly to the judge. To improve awareness of these types of threats, the Judicial Security Committee recommended, and the Judicial Conference endorsed, in March 2011, a policy encouraging circuits to adopt the Circuit Librarian Internet Security Initiative to routinely monitor the Internet for potential threats against judges.

Also, prior to the explosion of electronic communications, it was fairly simple for a judge to keep his or her telephone number and home address private, if desired. Today, however, this type of information is readily available on the Internet. Judges who do not want their personal information posted publicly must contact Internet sites periodically and request removal of their information. Unfortunately, in fact, it is unlikely that all personal information can be removed from the Internet once posted, but judges can take certain steps to minimize its availability. The Committee has issued guidance on these matters and it is available to judges through the J-Net.

The ad hoc Off-Site Subcommittee has made a series of security videos available to judges. What is their purpose?

The primary purpose is heightened judicial awareness of security issues. Following the release in August 2009 of Project 365: Security Starts with you, the Administrative Office (AO), in coordination with the USMS, produced a nine-part Security Tips video series for judges. These videos, which are lively and interesting, address inappropriate communications, courtroom security, travel safety, Internet security, commuting, suspicious packages, residential security, false liens, and protective details. The series is available for viewing through the J-Net.

When does a judge’s security education begin?

When nominees come to Washington, D.C. for confirmation hearings, they attend an orientation program presented by the AO. Nominees also are encouraged to arrange, through their district marshal’s office, a residential security survey, and a security briefing for chambers staff and members of the judge’s family. Of course, education of judges continues through the FJC New Judges Orientation, memos and videos from the AO, and periodic programs offered thereafter.