Dispute Leaves Security for U.S. Judges in Limbo

WASHINGTON -- A dispute between federal judges and the U.S. Marshals Service over who will pay monthly service fees for home security systems in judges' homes has helped stall nationwide installation of the devices.

Congress appropriated $12 million in May to pay for the installation of the security systems. But the money still has not been released pending resolution of the dispute over who will pay the monthly fees, as well as a delay in selecting a single contractor to install the devices, among other issues, according to a spokeswoman for the Judicial Conference of the U.S., the policy arm of the federal judiciary.

Getting the security systems was an urgent priority earlier this year following the murders of Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother in Chicago and an escaped prisoner's rampage in Atlanta that led to the deaths of a state judge, a federal agent and two other people.

At least in the Chicago area, "a lot of judges didn't wait and got their own [security] systems," said Charles Kocoras, chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

Determining a reimbursement policy for such cases is another of the unsettled items between judges and the Marshals Service.

Average fees for a security company to monitor a home intrusion system are about $ 25 to $ 30 per month, said Georgia Calaway of the Irving, Texas-based National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.

The delayed installations aren't the only difficulties facing the Marshals Service as it attempts to bolster safety for the nation's 2,000 federal judges.

According to an internal Justice Department watchdog, the Marshals Service hasn't fully staffed a clearinghouse that was set up to evaluate threats against the judiciary and appears to have pulled back from involvement with the FBI's anti-terrorist task forces.

These deficiencies prompted Inspector General Glenn Fine to add judicial security to his annual top 10 list of management challenges facing the Justice Department that was released recently.

Many of the shortcomings noted by Fine have been previously noted but not corrected. In a March 2004 report, Fine found that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Marshals Service had improved the physical security of courthouses, but that the agency's "threat assessments were often untimely and of questionable validity."

Fine's latest assessment said that the Marshals Service has improved the collection of threat information, but needs to assign more analysts to comb through it.

In particular, the service's Office of Protective Intelligence has had only five positions since it was created in June 2004 and needs "to be staffed appropriately to carry out its critical mission."

The Marshals Service will use some of the $ 12 million to increase staffing, Marc Farmer, assistant director for judicial security, said in an e-mail.

In addition, Fine said, the agency has "a potential intelligence vulnerability" because it does not have full-time representatives on each of the FBI's 56 Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs, which are designed to share information among local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

In his e-mail, Farmer cited a lack of money, a persistent problem with the Marshals Service, which has not received the same budget boosts in recent years as some other federal law-enforcement agencies, such as the FBI.

"Staffing of the JTTFs is resource-driven; the USMS [Marshals Service] will staff as funding resources are available," Farmer wrote. He noted that while the marshalsdon't always participate in local task forces, they do work with them on a national level to share needed information.

Some changes in the Marshals Service's approach to evaluating threats have been delayed pending a review of judicial security by U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales.

Kocoras said that among judges "there's a feeling that things are getting better" but "there seems to be no urgency to the situation."

Kocoras and other judges are hopeful that John Clark, the new head of the Marshals Service, will increase the attention paid to their security worries and provide stability to the agency in part because he is not an outside appointee, unlike his predecessor, Benigno Reyna.

"I think there is one very bright spot in that the nominee is a career Marshals Service employee," said Judge Jane Roth of the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, who until September was head of the Judicial Conference's security and facilities committee.

Reyna had been the police chief in Brownsville, Texas, overseeing about 300 employees, before President Bush named him in October 2001 to run the Marshals Service, which has about 4,000 deputy marshals. Reyna resigned July 31.

Clark is acting head of the Marshals Service pending Senate confirmation, which is expected in January or February. He would be the fifth director of the agency since 1999.

In addition to judicial security, the Marshals Service is responsible for transporting prisoners, operating the witness protection program and tracking down fugitives.

Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.