Judges must be aware of risk to personal safety


Authorities investigate the scene where District Judge Julie Kocurek was shot Nov. 6 in the driveway of her home.
Authorities investigate the scene where District Judge Julie Kocurek was shot Nov. 6 in the driveway of her home. AP

The November shooting of a state district judge in the driveway of her Austin home has galvanized judges across Texas into higher awareness of dangers to their personal safety.

Travis County state District Judge Julie Kocurek returned to work in late February after recuperating from gunshot wounds.

She said she was not aware that a telephone tip a couple of weeks before the Nov. 6 shooting notified authorities that a judge’s life had been threatened (and she reportedly was none too happy that she wasn’t told).

Officials say a man who faced probation revocation in Kocurek’s court is suspected of trying to kill her.

The Office of Court Administration conducted an email survey of judges across the state after Kocurek’s shooting. The office operates under the direction and supervision of the state Supreme Court.

Of the 1,115 judges who responded, 38 percent said they feared for their personal safety at work at least once in the past two years, the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday.

Separately, 42 percent said they feared for their safety away from work at least once.

Perhaps the only surprise in those figures is that they were not higher. After all, judges often must deliver very bad news to very dangerous people.

Courts are legally required to notify the Office of Court Administration about any security incidents, but more than half of the judges who responded to the survey said they were not aware of that requirement.

That means annual reports on those security incidents compiled by the Office of Court Administration are based on incomplete information, and the figures must be low.

The 2014 report, the latest available on the office’s website, shows 132 incidents in a 12-month period, an average of 11 per month.

Disorderly behavior was involved in 32 percent of the incidents, another 25 percent involved an attempt to take a weapon into a courtroom, and 13 percent involved physical assault.

There were no reports of security incidents at Tarrant County district courts in 2014, down from five reports in 2013 and five in 2012, the annual summary said.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said judges must take these security incidents seriously and report them.

“Every incident, no matter how minor, needs to be noted and examined,” he said. “We’ll be reminding judges that — don’t blow this off.”

Hecht said a committee will offer recommendations to enhance security for judges.