The shooting death of the son of a federal judge in New Jersey has highlighted the dangers that members of the judiciary face while carrying out their duties.
Judges have been a target of violence, with at least nine deaths targeting judges occurring in the US since 1974.
Federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, who lost her mother and husband in a 2005 shooting where the gunman was looking for her, told CNN in a phone interview Monday that despite the protections put in place for judges, “There’s no way to have 100% security.”
“People don’t litigate over small things that don’t matter to them. They litigate over things that matter a lot to them. If they lose, they can be enraged,” she added.
And in the last eight years, threats to judges have only increased.
Threats towards judges increase three-fold
The US Marshals Service was created to protect the federal judicial process in 1789.
They currently protect approximately 2,700 federal judges and 30,000 court officials across 838 court facilities in the US.
In recent years, the US Marshals have noted an uptick in threats and inappropriate communications to judges that has increased more than three-fold since 2012. In 2019 alone, the US Marshals assessed 4,449 threats or inappropriate communications.
Marshals are responsible for protecting not only judges and court officials, but also witnesses, jurors and the visiting public and prisoners, according to their website.
They are one of 21 primary members on the Interagency Security Committee established in a 1995 Executive Order to develop standards for security at federal facilities.
A history of targeted violence
The death of Judge Esther Salas’ son and shooting of her husband in North Brunswick, New Jersey, Sunday is similar to other attempted assassinations on judges, according to a list tracked by CNN, as family members have fallen victim to these attempts before.
Before Sunday, Lefkow was among five federal judges since 1978 victimized by an assassination attempt. A former plaintiff whose case had been dismissed by Lefkow claimed he was responsible for the 2005 murders of her mother and husband in a suicide note.
In March of 1987, the 87-year-old father of federal prosecutor William Aronwald was killed by hitmen who mistook him for the prosecutor.
Other killings tracked by CNN include that of spouses of judiciary members and several judges from lower courts.
“I want her to know that she’s not alone,” Lefkow said in sharing her thoughts for Salas.
“The guilt you feel because of your judicial office, that that happened – and yet an innocent person was the victim,” she said.
“All I can say is you just put one foot in front of the other and life goes on. There are ways to find joy.”
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.