But Bart A. Ross, who admitted killing her husband and mother in a note found after he committed suicide Wednesday, hadn't threatened Lefkow and had no history of violence. He was angry over her dismissal of a lawsuit in his long-running court fight over cancer treatment.
A 2004 report from the Justice Department's inspector general faulted the Marshals Service for its track record in assessing threats against judges, calling its assessments "often untimely and of questionable validity."
The Marshals Service notes that in the history of the federal judiciary, four judges have been assassinated, the most recently in 1988 and 1989, and neither of those had been threatened by their assassins.
Judges say threats are a fact of life when making decisions about people whose money, reputations and lives are at stake. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske says she needed a bodyguard and pulled her children out of school a decade ago, when she jailed a murder suspect with ties to terrorists.
But she adds that "we live in an open and free society, and unless we're going to put bubbles around everybody there are going to be risks."
Abner Mikva, a former U.S. Court of Appeals chief judge and congressman, said that although the recent shootings are tragic, he does not see a need for additional protection outside the courthouse.
"The idea of having 24-hour bodyguards around every judge's house, plus the interference in judge's lives, just is an overreaction," Mikva said.