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Justice Dept. Says Marshals Service Unable to Properly Protect Judges

June 21, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — A new Department of Justice audit found the U.S. Marshals Service is too understaffed and poorly equipped to adequately protect the nation’s judges.

The report was partly a response to the killing last year of a New Jersey federal judge’s son in which an angry male rights attorney is the prime suspect

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General report said the marshals lack threat detection resources and the latest home security equipment for judges.

The audit coincides with a sharp increase in threats against judges, their families and other public officials the Marshals Service is supposed to protect.

Between 2016 and 2019, the Marshals Service said “security incidents” that included inappropriate communications and threats against judicial officials rose 89 percent.

The Marshals Service needs to hire about 1,200 additional deputy marshals to protect more than 32,000 judges, prosecutors and court officials, the watchdog report says. 

After the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, federal judges asked Congress for $113 million in supplemental funds to protect their buildings. So far, their request has not been granted.

The U.S. Marshals Service reported 4,449 threats and intimidating communications to judges and other federal judicial officials in 2019, up from the 926 incidents in 2015.

“We found that the [U.S. Marshals Service] threat detection capabilities are insufficient to proactively monitor the current threat landscape, which has largely moved to online and social media settings,” the report said.

The U.S. Marshals Service fiscal 2021 budget of $514 million was split between courthouse security and protecting public officials. The funding was spread among 1,722 staff positions.

“However, only a fraction of that funding and staff was given to [protecting public officials], which received $26.7 million and funding for 206 staff positions in FY 2021,” the report says. “The remainder is used to maintain the security of federal court facilities throughout the country and the security of in-custody defendants during court proceedings.”

The Marshals Service operates under a “Strategic Plan” that sets a goal of detecting threats before they develop into attacks but the reality is the marshals are so busy responding to incidents they have little time to be proactive, the report says.

The result is “vulnerabilities that put [Marshals Service]-protected persons at risk,” the report says.

The report makes eight recommendations. Nearly all of them call for updating the Marshals Service’s policies, training and security technology.

The incident that gave rise to public outrage took place at the New Jersey home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas.

On July 19, 2020, an assailant went to Salas’ family home disguised as a delivery man after finding their address online. The judge’s 20-year-old son opened the door when he knocked.

The assailant opened fire with a handgun, killing the son immediately. He then shot the judge’s husband who was nearby, critically injuring him. Salas was in the basement and was not injured. 

The next day, the FBI identified attorney Roy Den Hollander as the suspect after finding him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a rental car. His gun was the same caliber and style as the one used to shoot Salas’ son and husband.

Den Hollander had gained notoriety for representing clients in unsuccessful sex discrimination lawsuits on behalf of men, one of which was heard by Salas. He was known to have used racist and sexist terms to describe Salas, who is part Hispanic.

The CBS News television show 60 Minutes revealed during a February 2021 interview with Salas that the gunman also was planning to attack U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

A U.S. Senate bill named after Salas’ son was designed to shield personally identifiable information about judges from public records that might create a threat for them. It failed to win approval last December amid concerns it was an overreach.

Critics of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020 said it also would shield information about bad behavior of judges, such as taking bribes, engaging in nepotism or favoritism and other misconduct.

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