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DOJ watchdog says Marshals Service lacks resources to protect judges

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The crest of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

  • U.S. Marshals Service says it needs 1,200 more deputies
  • Report found 89% increase in security incidents and threats to judges, others marshals protect

(Reuters) - The U.S. Marshals Service doesn’t have the capacity or resources needed to detect threats in advance to protect individuals under its care, including federal judges, a U.S. Department of Justice watchdog report found Wednesday.

In a 32-page report, the DOJ's inspector general found that USMS's protection efforts are stymied by competing budget and staffing priorities, as well as outdated home security equipment. The service also doesn't have enough people – USMS says it needs 1,200 more deputies on top of the 3,855 it already has, according to the report.

The inspector general also found that the Marshals Service has been unable to proactively monitor the internet and social media platforms for threats. On top of that, the deputies "responsible for conducting district-level threat investigation and mitigation perform this function as a collateral duty, and therefore are only dedicated to this responsibility on a part-time, rotational basis," the inspector general's office wrote.

These shortcomings are "particularly concerning" because of the sharp uptick in security incidents and threats made to individuals the USMS protects – an 89% increase between October 2015 and September 2019, the report found.

The service is tasked with protecting more than 2,700 sitting judges and 30,000 federal prosecutors and court officials nationwide, according to the inspector general.

Outdated security equipment could push judges to decline to enroll in USMS' home intrusion detection system "or force them to choose an alternative security system that suits their needs better but operates outside of the USMS's purview," the report found.

The report is partially redacted, including statistics on how many federal judges use the Marshals Service's home intrusion detection system or didn't arm the system.

The Marshals Service did not respond a request for comment. The inspector general's report includes responses from USMS, in which the service concurred with all of its recommendations.

The inspector general's report comes nearly one year after a disgruntled attorney allegedly shot and killed the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas at her home and wounded her husband in the same attack.

That attack has helped direct national attention to the security risks faced by federal judges. The National Judicial College, a judicial education group, polled 572 judges in August, finding nearly 85% of them said the security for their families is inadequate.

Both judges and attorneys have expressed concern over the availability of judges' personal information through public records. Both Salas and the American Bar Association have called for measures that would keep the personal information of jurists private. The ABA, in particular, called on Congress to pass legislation named for Salas' son, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020.

The proposal gained bipartisan support in 2020 but was shelved after Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, insisted it be expanded to add protections for Congress members' personal information. The measure has not yet been reintroduced in the current session of Congress.

Read more:

ABA asks Congress to protect judges' personal info after shooting, surge in threats

NJ governor to sign judicial protection bill following attack that killed judge's son

Judges report safety fears in court, at home after New Jersey attack

Latina judge from New Jersey breaks silence two weeks after attacker kills her son

Anti-feminist lawyer, suspect in killing of judge’s son, dead

David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.

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