Skip to content

Schumer To Justice Department: Courts In Danger, Witnesses And Judges Are Unprotected

Senator pushes Attorney General Gonzales to immediately launch top- to-bottom review of courthouse security, restore funding to witness protection program
Schumer: The courts exist so justice can be served, that system breaks down if judges and witnesses are being killed

As new loopholes are being exposed in courthouse security, as most recently illustrated evinced in Atlanta, and major cuts to the federal witness protection system are revealed in an Inspector General report, Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Justice Department to thoroughly review staffing needs in the federal witness protection program and to study courthouse security and make immediate recommendations to ensure judges can carry out their duties without fearing for their lives. Schumers letter comes on the heels of an audit of the US Marshals Services administration of the witness protection program that showed staffing has been cut 25% over the past 8 years while the number of witnesses and their families have climbed 12% in that time.

The courts exist so that justice can be served. The system is broken if judges and witnesses are being killed and dont have the peace of mind that they will be protected from violent criminals, Schumer said. Im urging the Justice Department to remedy the understaffing of one of our most critical federal programs to protect the rule of law and hope they can answer fundamental questions about security in our courts.

In the last two weeks one judge and a judge's family were brutally murdered by individuals who had appeared before them in court. Judge Lefkow, a federal judge sitting in the Northern District of Illinois, came to home to find her husband and mother shot to death. Apparently, a criminal defendant in one of her cases had found her home, snuck inside, lain in wait, and killed her husband and mother because he was unhappy with the way he was treated in Judge Lefkow's courtroom. Then, last week another judge, along with various court personnel, were murdered in open court because of lax security in a courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

Schumer, in his letter, asked Gonzales to answer the following questions: � What is the current level of funding for courthouse security (i.e. number of magnetometers, private security guards, law enforcement, barricades, etc.)? Are theses levels adequate or should they be increased?

� Should personnel (private or law enforcement) be permitted to carry weapons in courthouses?

� What resources are currently used for assessing threats to judges and prosecutors and how can such threat assessments be improved?

� What is the training of law enforcement and other courthouse personnel with respect to violent offenders and what equipment and resources do they have at their disposal? What improvements can be made to the training of court personnel and law enforcement to prevent future acts of violence in courthouses?

As the Inspector General report revealed today, there is also a potential problem in the way we protect witnesses who agree to testify in criminal cases. The report finds that there is a serious deficiency in funding and staffing of the Witness Security Program run by the Federal Marshals Service. The Witness Security Program has been enormously successful, granting new identities to more than 17,000 people during its history and helping to secure the convictions of countless violent criminals including the most vicious mafia murderers of our time. Witness protection is available to those who provide key testimony and whose safety could be jeopardized because of their cooperation with prosecutors. The conviction rate in cases where these witnesses have testified is an impressive 89 percent.

The bottom line is, these recent attacks on judges dont just affect the victims, they are an assault on our justice system, and on the rule of law. We must assess and implement the most basic steps to protect our judges, said Schumer. We must also restore funding and increase staff levels for witness protection. We cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish. These witnesses are literally willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of justice. The least we can do is protect them from the criminals who want to harm them."

Click here to view letter.