WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal judge whose husband and mother were slain in their family home in Chicago, Illinois, four years ago was honored Monday by U.S. marshals charged with combating a growing number of threats to the judiciary.
Judge Joan Lefkow has advocated improving judicial security since her husband and mother were killed.
Judge Joan Lefkow, who eventually returned to the bench, credited the marshals who protect federal judges at work and at home with major improvements in judicial security in the years since her family tragedy.
"It's now four years later, and I do see dawn has broken," Lefkow told a crowd of friends and federal officials gathered at the Marshals Service headquarters across the Potomac River from Washington.
The improved security -- including home intrusion security systems and coordinated intelligence and threat analysis -- was badly needed, according to both judges and the Marshals Service. The number of threats has increased each year, and is expected to exceed 1,500 this year, up from 1,278 last year.
"We've already had 600 inappropriate communications reported in the first months of this year," said Marshals Service spokesman Dave Turner.
Whether real threats or hoaxes, every e-mail, phone call, written note and letter -- including some with white powder -- is investigated.
The scope and seriousness of the protective effort increased sharply after the Lefkow tragedy.
On Tuesday, the Marshals Service dedicated the "Joan Lefkow Conference Room" in the new Threat Management Center to the memory of her slain husband, Michael Lefkow, and mother, Donna Humphrey. Judge Lefkow returned home on February 28, 2005, to find them shot to death.
The man authorities said was their killer committed suicide 10 days later when he was stopped by police in Wisconsin. The killer was angry that Judge Lefkow had dismissed his medical malpractice case and he sought revenge, police concluded.
U.S. Marshals Director John Clark credits Lefkow's advocacy for better security as the catalyst for dramatic changes.
"Because of her courage to speak out and her advocacy for reform in the protection of judges, things started to happen," Clark said. He cited congressional funding for home-intrusion alarms in every judge's residence and a sharp increase in funding to hire more threat investigators, protections specialists, analysts and trainers.
The threat management center has been open for more than a year.
Deputy marshals in the judicial protection effort attribute a growing number of the threats to disgruntled members of what is known as the sovereign citizenship movement. The movement is a loosely organized network of individuals and groups claiming not to be accountable to the federal government. The movement includes tax protesters, white separatists, zealots of fringe religious groups and desperate individuals lashing out at bankruptcy courts or judges who had wronged them.
As a result, some judges have been given around-the-clock protective details by deputy marshals.
"While steady progress has been made, we must be ever vigilant and progressive in order to ensure we are providing the best possible protection to our nation's judiciary," Clark said.
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