IATL President's Letter on Judicial Security

By Roman Silberfeld

Summer 2021

REAL TALK: The Robins Kaplan Business Law Update by the Women of Business Litigation.

My appointment as president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers (IATL) in March of 2021 was the highlight of my long legal career. In pursuit of the IATL’s mission of promoting excellence and integrity in the legal profession, I want to draw attention to an issue of importance to the bar — the increase of threats and attacks on judges in our country.

IATL, founded and continuously functioning for over 65 years as a protector of our judicial system, is deeply concerned about threats against and physical attacks on judges.

Statistics on the security of federal and state judges are alarming.

Last year, federal judges received 4,200 threats, up 400% from 5 years ago. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is charged with protecting federal judges, but a June 2021 USMS audit concluded that it did not have the resources to do so.

In August of 2020, the National Judicial College conducted a poll of its members, and 75% of respondents felt courts were not doing enough to keep them safe, and nearly 85% reported inadequate security for their families.

The attack on Judge Esther Salas’ family in her New Jersey home last July demonstrates that security at the courthouse is not enough. Further, the increased use of social media has amplified the threat beyond the disgruntled litigant, and there is even concern about the safety of jurors in high-profile matters. As officers of the court, we must act.

Judicial security is critical to a functioning democracy. Physical attacks on judges and their families obviously cause personal injury and death, but such attacks also threaten judicial independence, recruitment, and retention of good judges, and public confidence in our judicial system. These assaults undermine the judicial system and upset the delicate balance between the three branches of government. Our democracy depends on respect for judicial judgments and those who make them.

We have an obligation to respond on behalf of judges, who are often limited in what they can say and do by judicial canons of ethics. What is appropriate depends, of course, on where you practice, but all of us are called upon to be mindful of how we speak of judges and judicial decisions and of how we react to others’ speech. De-escalating and condemning the harmful rhetoric aimed at judges is essential. You may also want to speak out and support legislation that addresses judicial security.

Please join me in addressing the security of judges and the judicial process. The judges with whom we interact daily, the court systems where we practice, and our very democracy is at risk.

Roman M. Silberfeld


National Trial Chair

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