Targeted Judges Illustrate Occupational Dangers

The recent news of a shooting that targeted a Texas state district judge and a series of death threats mailed to five Chicago-area judges are important reminders of the dangers often faced by the jurists, lawyers and law enforcement officials who work in our civil and criminal justice systems.

Judge Julie Kocurek of Travis County’s 390th District Court in Austin suffered injuries after being shot at in her car in her own driveway on Nov. 6. The judge survived the nighttime attack after being hit by shrapnel and broken glass during what authorities called an assassination attempt. Police in Houston questioned a man who Travis County prosecutors were proposing locking up for violating his probation in a plea deal over fraud charges. That motion was pending in Judge Kocurek’s court.  

In Chicago, court officials are reporting that five area judges recently received mailed death threats, including one that warned, “You are on a kill list.”

Threats against judges, lawyers and police officers are not uncommon, but violence against these groups is rare. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Marshals Service, there were 768 threats made against the nation’s 2,000 federal judges in 2014. No such statistics are recorded on the state level. The incidents in Austin and Chicago are the most recent, but most Texans still remembering the 2013 Kaufman County murders of assistant DA Mark Hasse and DA Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia. Defendant Eric Williams was sentenced to death last December.

Any time a member of our legal system is targeted, it represents an extreme threat to our system of justice. Criminal court judges and prosecutors probably face the greatest dangers, but others, such as family law judges and lawyers, are just as susceptible when they work in emotionally-charged environments. We all should be concerned when intimidation and violence are used to prevent our courts from carrying out their duties. 

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Judge Kocurek and eventual justice for those responsible for her shooting. And a hearty thank you to all those attorneys and judges who man the front lines of our criminal justice system.   

Posted: 11/13/2015 3:19:26 PM by TCLE Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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