Court-related violence is a chronic preoccupation for those inside the justice system, but it is not one that usually gets much attention, says the New York Times. Concern ratcheted up and went public after the killings of a federal judge’s relatives in Chicago and of a judge, court reporter, sheriff’s deputy, and federal customs agent in Atlanta.
In his annual state of the judiciary speech last week, Ronald George, chief justice of the California Supreme Court, said the slayings highlighted “the physical vulnerability of our courts.” Two-thirds of California’s courthouses lack adequate security, he said, citing a rural judge who stacked law books in front of his bench to protect himself from flying bullets during an attempted hostage-taking in 1997. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a Secret Service study said, most “near-lethal approachers and the great majority of attackers and assassins” are not mentally ill. Attacks on public officials are generally premeditated; motives can include the desire for notoriety and the desire for vengeance. There is no profile of a judicial assassin. Would-be assassins run the gamut from white-collar criminals to cold-blooded killers like Larry Casey, convicted in 1973 of murdering two children and an 86-year-old woman in Texas.