From CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi
(Washington, DC) - I’ve spent a lot of time in my career as a journalist in and out of courthouses covering murders, rapists, and other nefarious folks who got put away for a long time. Being in court can be pretty dramatic regardless of what side you’re on.
Emotions run high and it's generally cramped quarters, especially for the victim’s family members who could be sitting a few feet from the accused killer. Those tensions can and sometimes do explode. Look no further than the Atlanta courthouse shooting in 2005 or the judge in Florida who leaped over the bench in March after a defendant attacked a victim during in a hearing.
For judges – safety is becoming a growing concern. A report released by the U.S. Marshals says threats against prosecutors and federal judges have gone from 500 in 2003 to 1,200 in 2008. Jeanne Meserve and I spoke with a few judges for our piece this morning. All had horror stories of being threatened either early in their careers as an attorney or while on the bench.
Judge Laurie White, a criminal court judge in New Orleans, LA said, “If you're going to get elected and be in the rough and tough world of criminal justice you can't be shy and you'd better have nerves of steel. And you better have a strong gut. It's not an easy spot and I think you do this job at your own personal risk and the point is whether you depend on everyone else to protect you or you provide a lot of your own protection." In New Orleans the only person allowed to carry a firearm by law is the judge, but in Washington, D.C. neither the judges nor the bailiffs have firearms on them in the courtroom.
U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walker has been threatened many times in his career, most recently during the Scooter Libby trial here in Washington, D.C. “None of us want to be reversed, none of us want to be threatened. You can't play scared,” he said. “Our obligation is to ensure that the rule of law is adhered to and if you can't do that because of fear, then obviously you're not fulfilling what your constitutional obligations are as a judge. So, despite the potential that you may be reversed, and despite the potential that you may be threatened, you gotta do what you think is right.”
Watch: New threats against judges