Video: Judges fear retaliation

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/11/2005 7:28:52 PM ET 2005-03-12T00:28:52

It's happened before. Fort Worth, Texas, July 1992: George Lott, in court for a child custody case, pulled out a gun. He killed two lawyers and wounded three others, including judge Clyde Ashworth, who was shot in the hip.

"It's something you don't get over," says Ashworth. "The good Lord was with me that day."

Still, shootings in court — and outside as well — happen rarely.

But the Lefkow murders in Chicago last month and Friday's killings in Atlanta are stark reminders of what some judges and court officials say they fear most — retaliation.

"Obviously court personnel everywhere — at every state and federal level — will be reassessing their security measures," says Tom Schuck of the Federal Bar Association.

During the past 25 years at least three federal judges have been killed because of their rulings. Violent incidents occur more frequently in state and local courts. No agency keeps statistics, but many court officials say the violence seems to be happening more and more.

Former New York judge Leslie Crocker Snyder handled some of the city's most vicious drug, gang and mob cases. She and her family often had round-the-clock police protection.

"I felt extraordinarily threatened in several instances, but I was extremely lucky because the NYPD acted proactively," says Snyder.

In more than 7,000 courthouses across the country, security measures vary widely. Many, some experts say, are vulnerable to attacks.

"There aren't a lot of situations like that, but there are far too many for us to say let's not do anything,'" says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at John Jay College in New York.

That's why safety is now at the top of every court's docket.

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