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July 01, 2021 Vol. 46, No. 6

Supporting the judiciary: A role for bars in helping judges, families stay safe

By Robert J. Derocher

Judge Esther Salas is happy to be back on the bench—a joy that is tempered with grief and pain.

“Every day is a struggle,” she concedes, nearly a year after her 20-year-old son was shot dead and her husband seriously wounded in the front doorway of their New Jersey home by an attorney posing as a courier.

“He put together a rather elaborate dossier. He had been stalking my family. He had my routes to work,” Salas says. “He had his plans laid out. But he didn’t plan on my son or my husband being there to stop him.”

In the weeks and months after the deadly incident, though, Salas has been determined not to be consumed by sorrow. Instead, she has refocused her commitment to her U.S. District Court work in New Jersey, while maintaining a rigorous media and public speaking crusade for federal and state versions of Daniel’s Law. Named for her deceased son, Daniel Anderl, the law seeks to severely limit the amount of publicly available personal information on judges and other officers of the court.

The drive for Daniel’s Law comes at a time of escalating verbal and physical threats aimed at federal and state judiciaries—an alarming trend that has Salas joining with colleagues in a push to secure more funding for increased courthouse and guard protection for judges and other officers of the court.

As these efforts for greater protection proceed, bar leaders are also being called on for support, with many speaking out in favor of Daniel’s Law and the increased security measures. Judges and bar leaders say such judicial protection is not only a matter of safety, but also one of safeguarding constitutional principles at a time when they are also increasingly under attack.

Tragedy leads to statewide action

A U.S. District Court judge for the District of New Jersey since 2011, Salas was at home with her son and her husband, defense attorney Mark Anderl, on Sunday, July 19, 2020, when attorney Roy Den Hollander, dressed as a Federal Express driver, rang their front doorbell. When Daniel and Mark Anderl appeared at the door, Hollander fired several shots, killing Daniel Anderl and critically injuring Mark Anderl before fleeing. Salas was in the basement at the time and was unhurt. Hollander, a self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” attorney, was found dead the next day from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Salas says FBI agents soon made it clear that she was the intended target: Hollander had appeared before her in a previous court case and was unhappy with the case’s direction. Agents also discovered that Hollander had amassed a trove of information—much of it found via online public records—that he used to methodically track Salas and plan his deadly attack.

“I guess I was ignorant to the real dangers that open source information can lead to,” she says.

Daniel Anderl’s murder “rocked the legal community in New Jersey,” says Kim Yonta, the immediate past president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. In the weeks after Anderl’s death, the state bar joined Salas and state legislators in New Jersey to push for the passage of Daniel’s Law, a measure patterned after similar laws in Illinois and Texas that shields telephone numbers, addresses and other personal information of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers from public disclosure.

As bar president, Yonta testified before the state Assembly, met with New Jersey’s U.S. senators and wrote columns in support of the state's Daniel’s Law, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy just four months after Anderl’s death. While some bar members were wary of the potential politics surrounding the legislation, she says, many members supported it.

“It is imperative that we deter threats like this to ensure independence and integrity in the judiciary, because if you don’t have that, you don’t have a judicial branch that’s separate [and coequal],” says Yonta, who has previously worked with Mark Anderl. “As lawyers, we have a duty to speak up in these situations.”

Support needed nationwide

Yonta was also a cosponsor of a resolution adopted in February 2021 by the ABA House of Delegates supporting passage of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020 in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as similar Daniel’s Law measures in other states.

“Preventing violence starts with promoting respect for judges and the courts,” says ABA President Patricia Lee Refo, who has led ABA efforts to lobby for more judicial protection. “State and local bars are especially suited to step up and defend judges who cannot defend themselves from unfair attacks in the media and in the political arena.”

To encourage bar leaders and lawyers across the country to lobby for increased judicial security, this issue was a major focus for ABA Day Digital 2021. Judge Salas was the keynote speaker for the conference component of this event, in April 2021; also speaking at that event was U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), sponsor of the U.S. House Anderl bill.

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders late last year, Refo cited the Anderl murder, along with recent courthouse shootings in Arizona and California and the exponential threat increase as reasons to bolster spending for increased security measures. The U.S. Marshals Service, the federal agency charged with protecting court officers, has logged a near four-fold increase in physical threats and “inappropriate communications” with officers, jumping from 926 such reports in 2015 to 4,261 in 2020.

The U.S. Judicial Conference, a policy-making body for federal judges, held an emergency meeting of its Security Committee in the wake of Daniel Anderl’s murder last summer, calling on Congress to provide additional funds for sweeping security upgrades, including: hiring 1,000 additional marshals, more vigilance in pursing online threats, more security cameras at courthouses and beefed up home intrusion protection for judges. The Conference is also actively advocating for Daniel’s Law.

“I’m concerned about how personal these threats are and how much they include the judge’s personal information, like their addresses and pictures of their homes,” says Judge David McKeague, the chair of the Security Committee. “There are people encouraging others to act out their threats.  Calls to action to commit violence are not protected by the First Amendment.”

Different ways to lend a hand

While Congress currently debates Daniel’s Law and security funding, McKeague and others say that dialing back violent rhetoric while scaling up civility is also key to protecting the judiciary.

“Words matter,” Refo adds. “As officers of the court, it’s up to us to model the behavior we wish to see in others. It’s essential that lawyers promote civil discourse in the courtroom and in the larger world. And the rule of law requires that we follow a court’s decision, even when we express our disagreement with it.”

In New Jersey, Yonta says, there is growing discussion about how the bar can help improve civics education in schools to make students more aware of the critical need to understand and support the constitutional separation of powers.

Also key to success, McKeague says, is the continued lobbying and support from local, state and national bar leaders. “We need independent voices speaking on our behalf, and bar associations should be playing that role,” he says. “Somebody has to start saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ and that is a role of the state bar and the [local and other] bar associations.”

‘I will not stop’

For Salas, the personal campaign for Daniel’s Law and improved judicial security continues at a determined pace. In the months after the shootings, she has written national op-ed articles, spoken to numerous legal and other association groups, and appeared on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America and several other television news programs.

“[Mark and I] are going to try and take this horrific tragedy and turn it into something positive, so that other colleagues of mine may be spared this agony,” she says. “It’s certainly hard, but we feel compelled to continue to do our part to try and bring about change.”

Her drive has earned the admiration of many colleagues, such as U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York, who has appeared with her on several panels discussing judicial security.

“She’s tireless and really courageous. I have to believe that every time she talks about this, it rips open a wound,” says Sullivan, also a member of the Judicial Conference’s Security Committee. “She’s been a very articulate spokeswoman for the judiciary on this subject.”

Despite a few close calls, Salas says, her husband continues to recover and has endorsed her efforts. She also knows it’s a calling that her late son would understand and appreciate.

“I have no regrets in taking this job. And one of the reasons I have no regrets is because my son was so very proud of me and my accomplishments,” she says. “I’m mindful of my son when I agree to do anything. I cannot let his death be in vain. I need to continue to use my voice to address the need for change. And I will not stop.”

We’d like to hear from you

Has your bar or any of its leaders been involved in efforts to support Daniel’s Law or taken any other action to help increase judicial security? Has your bar recently initiated any new efforts in the area of civic education for the public or civility among lawyers? If so, we’d like to hear from you for possible coverage in a future issue of Bar Leader. Please email Editor Marilyn Cavicchia. Thank you.