Adjudicating in Stormy Times: Practical safety tips to survive 2020 and beyond

By John Muffler

Probably the last thing any of us wanted at the end of Daylight Saving Time was to “fall back” (turn back our clocks) and thereby add one more hour to 2020. Good riddance to this year.

Quarantines, social unrest, contested elections and business closures have been daily stressors. Suicide and domestic violence have become an epidemic within, and because of, the pandemic. 

All of this has made the profession of judging more dangerous.

According to a study from two decades ago, many Americans and litigants already believed court procedures were always or usually unfair. It stands to reason that current conditions are adding physiological and psychological stressors for victims, parties to cases, jurors and citizens.

This means judges need to double down on security and awareness of threats.

Remember:

  • Attacks are usually case-related (it’s personal for the attacker).
  • Don’t count on receiving a threat beforehand – most physical assaults will not be preceded by a threat or inappropriate communication.
  • If you’re deciding a high-profile case that has an impact on society as a whole – such as voter fraud, Roe v Wade – potential attackers may not be known to you. A threat can come from anyone in the population.
  • By threatening you, attackers look to gain back control that was lost in your courtroom or right a perceived wrong.

To up your safety and security, remember these tips:

  1. Maintain an open and honest dialogue with your family, staff, law enforcement and security providers about any concerns.
  2. Have an emergency plan in place at home, in court and in transit – and practice it!
  3. Be an active participant in your own survival. Your plan should not rely solely on a 911 call or the bailiff in your court. Your safety is your responsibility.

The murder of United States District Judge Esther Salas’s son earlier this year is a stark reminder of the risk and vulnerabilities all judges face, especially at home. This killer disguised himself as a FedEx delivery person to gain direct access to the front door and carry out his plan. 

We are all receiving more deliveries at home during Covid-19 and the holiday season. Know what packages you are expecting and when. Don’t go near anything or anyone unexpected.

To learn more about judicial security and to measure your own preparedness, log on to NJC On-Demand and access my Judicial Security Checklist and webinar.

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