A few days after then-U.S. District Court Judge David Hamilton ruled in late 2005 in Anthony Hinrichs, et al. v. Brian Bosma, et al., that sectarian prayer could not be used to open legislative sessions, we received a phone call from someone who wanted the judge’s e-mail address and contact information.
We declined to give that information.
We would decline in any circumstances to give information any of our sources entrust us with, but our concern for the judge’s safety was utmost in our thoughts given the backlash at the time from people who did not see the case the way the judge did. Personal blogs and commenting on the news of the day were not so commonplace then, but people who wanted to share their opinions on this particular decision found a way to make their points clear.
We’re sure that our caller found a way to make his point to the judge if he was determined to do so, and we’re sure the U.S. Marshal’s Service at the court did its work to maintain the judge’s safety.
Fast-forward a few years and it’s now commonplace for bloggers and would-be news commentators to voice criticism against judges who dare to see things differently from them.
We direct you to a story in this issue of the newspaper that starts on Page 1 concerning judicial safety.
A third trial recently happened in a federal court in Brooklyn over a particular case involving judicial safety. Blogger Hal Turner wrote that Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals were “traitors” and “tyrants” and that they should be killed for their June 2009 decision that upheld a gun ban in Chicago on the grounds that the 2nd Amendment didn’t apply to the states.
Specifically, Turner wrote that he believed judges ignore the U.S. Constitution because “… they have not, in our lifetime, faced REAL free men willing to walk up to them and kill them for their defiance and disobedience. Let me be the first to say this plainly, these judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty; a small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.”
The U.S Attorney in Chicago says the online speech is a threat on the judges’ lives, while Turner maintains this is merely his opinion regarding what should happen to the judges and that his opinion is protected by the First Amendment. The first two trials ended in mistrials when the juries failed to reach a decision; a third found him guilty.
Turner claims his words were not a call to action but merely political speech, and he points to the fact that the judges were not harmed as evidence of this. The prosecution points to the fact that Turner included the judges’ office addresses, photo of the building where they work, and a map of the area as an attempt to bring harm to the judges by providing information to anyone motivated enough to carry out the deeds he called for. The judges have said they did not change their security measures because of the threat last summer but believe the blog post was a threat on their lives.
We also heard that Judge Posner was particularly irritated at needing to testify at the second trial because it took away from the time he could devote to his work. We share his irritation; we’d rather have him at work than testifying against crackpots. But if his testimony can put this crackpot away for up to 10 years, then so be it.
We bring this to your attention here because we want readers to consider their own personal safety. We would imagine that few of you are completely immune from a threat. The nature of the work you do means that some people win and some people lose. Even in a mediation setting, not everyone gets everything they want all the time. If you’ve never thought about your safety at work and away from the office, we encourage you to devote some time to that immediately and put a plan in place.
We do not often have occasion to write about threats or harm that comes to lawyers and judges in their work, and we’d like to keep it that way.•
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