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August 04, 2023 Introduction

Judicial Security: Ensuring Safe Access for All Stakeholders

By Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, PhD

I still recall the details of the brutal courtroom attack of my “buddy” judge in another county. She had been beaten unconscious on her bench by a mentally ill defendant. Despite the presence of two sheriff deputies, the defendant had propelled himself onto her bench, where he pounced on her, put her in a headlock, and punched her for about 30 seconds before anyone could rescue her. Lawyers and sheriff deputies were injured in coming to her aid while stunned onlookers screamed and fled the courtroom. Judge Linda K.M. Ludgate of Berks County, Pennsylvania, suffered a broken right forearm, nose and facial (orbital bone) fractures, and significant impaired vision. Judge Ludgate’s condition was so serious that her emergency room nurse slept on her living room floor until her condition became more stable.

The dexterity of that defendant was unfortunately underestimated. To prevent underestimating the prowess of any party in our courtrooms, judicial security protocols must be developed and followed. This edition of The Judges’ Journal aims to provide our readers with vital information to ensure the safety of all stakeholders. As co-editors of this special edition, Judge Christopher J. McFadden of the Georgia Court of Appeals and I researched and located particularly skilled experts to write articles on aspects of judicial security. In the first article, Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. and James L. Anderson describe the historical risks to judicial safety in their article “The Evolving Nature of Security Threats to Judges.” Cyberattacks have released confidential information, causing security risks. Many other efforts, including funding, may have to be considered to develop solutions to these serious risks.

John F. Muffler, a world-renowned expert in judicial security, provides excellent safety tools in his article “From Grievance to Attack: The Modus Operandi of Judicial Attackers: With Tips for Your Protection.” He encourages judges to become active participants in their own survival and discusses the modus operandi of judicial attackers and how to mitigate outbursts in courtrooms.

Judge Frank J. Bailey (Ret.) interviews Judge Esther Salas (D-N.J.) about her tragic family loss. Daniel’s Law, named after her courageous son who was killed by a stalker, became the first New Jersey law on judicial security and privacy. Judge Salas believes we preserve democracy by providing safety of “judges at all levels of government who must be able to do our jobs without fear of reprisal, retribution, or death.” This is an outstanding, heartfelt conversation.

Lawyers who work closely with courtroom participants may be the first to observe any changes in behavior. In “Recent Efforts and the Role of Lawyers in Promoting Judicial Security,” Attorney Daniel F. Gourash details the important roles and duties that lawyers have in protecting access to the court process.

Two experts in this edition provide their technological advice about cybersecurity. In “Ten Easy Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Cyberattack or Data Breach,” Scott R. Davis, a cybersecurity educator, provides security tips, including the importance of passwords. Claudia Rast, co-chair of the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, details ways to protect court information from cyberattacks in her very informative article “Cybersecurity Threats to the Judiciary.” She lists necessary steps to manage cyber risks and advises courts to make risk assessments to protect critical and sensitive data.

In his “Waymaker” article, Justice Paul D. Wilson (Ret.) interviews Justice Geraldine Hines, the first African American woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice in Massachusetts. In his inspiring and delightful article, Justice Wilson traces with Justice Hines her distinguished career starting from her humble upbringing to her acclaimed judicial career. What an amazing interview!

Robert H. Edmunds Jr. writes a thorough book review about Her Honor, edited by Lauren Stiller Rikleen. In this recently published book by the ABA, Justice Edmunds finds consistent themes such as courage, fortitude, and perseverance in the life stories of the 25 female judges featured.

This edition of The Judges’ Journal is a combination of inspiring life stories and focused security articles. The authors provide the tools for our toolboxes to ensure the safety of all stakeholders. All participants in the courts deserve to have meaningful security. The courts should be safe places. Jurors, witnesses, personnel, spectators, and all who enter our courts need to know they are safe when appearing in our “halls of justice.” Moreover, the National Conference of State Trial Judges is sponsoring a resolution to the ABA House of Delegates regarding enhanced security and trauma support for judicial staff and their families. Security must indeed be our top priority—without competent judicial security, access to justice is indeed denied. 

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Judge Stephanie Domitrovich

Senior Judge, Erie County Courts

Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, PhD, is a senior judge for Pennsylvania, after being an elected general jurisdiction trial judge for over 32 years.