Being safe or paranoid
Below is an article from the Tampa Tribune. It is about judges and how they some try to keep themselves safe from danger. One judge, usuing the courthouse address for his driver's license and other personal matters.
How real is the danger to judges? The article cites two examples, and to be honest the Atlanta incident shouldn't count. That was a failure of courthouse personel and police. How many times have there acts of violence against judges in the last ten years? Do you think these public officials need to go these lengths or are they cowards? Should Judges be treated any different than the rest of the public? If the Tampa Tribune found out the judge's address, I'm sure I or anyone else can. The newspaper just isn't telling, want to bet?
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TAMPA, FLORIDA - Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne S. Timmerman lists the address for the county administration building on his driver’s license.
He fills out all the forms available to judges that keep his property tax information - and home address - off the public records lists.
His phone number is unlisted.
Still, he said, if people try hard enough, they can find him.
“I’ve thought about and discussed the problem of keeping yourself safe, and I’ve decided it’s just not possible,” he said. “You can’t hide in this day and age.”
Judges, who make tough decisions that can and do make enemies, often engage a long list of security techniques to keep safe. One of the most difficult safety endeavors is the attempt to keep their personal information such as addresses and phone numbers off public records.
That should be a goal for everyone, not just judges, many electronic privacy experts say. With information as simple as a date of birth, an identity thief can begin to apply for credit, ruining a victim’s financial reputation.
With today’s access to electronic record keeping, however, privacy is getting more and more difficult to achieve.
Timmerman guessed that anyone who knows public records - for example, researchers at The Tampa Tribune - could find his address and phone number in about 15 minutes.
It took eight.
A Tribune researcher used a subscription database to locate Timmerman. Not just anyone can sign up for this database. Companies or individuals wanting a subscription must explain why they need the information. Newspapers, for example, are allowed access.
The search for Timmerman’s information cost about $3.50. He verified that it was accurate.
A Very Real Need
Timmerman said the need for judges to keep private is real.
A couple of years ago, jail deputies intercepted a phone call in which an inmate threatened to kill Timmerman and his wife. Tampa police provided excellent security, he said, and the crisis was averted.
“From time to time, people do threaten judges,” Hillsborough Chief Judge Manuel Menendez said. “It is an issue. We’re aware of it, and we do the best we can to handle it.”
Although credible threats against judges in Hillsborough County have been thwarted, other areas have seen tragedy.
On Feb. 28, 2005, the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago were shot to death by a man upset at one of her rulings. Less than two weeks later in Atlanta, a judge, a deputy and a court reporter were killed when a defendant overpowered a deputy and took her gun.
Last year, the Chicago Bar Association and The John Marshall Law School drew up a booklet for judges, offering advice on how to keep their private lives private.
Among the tips, judges should:
File “blackout” forms that keep judges’ property tax information off public databases.
Have mail-order packages delivered to a post office box or their offices.
Refrain from listing a home address on anything that could be sold to an information database, including warranty cards or supermarket discount applications.
Leslie Ann Reis, the director of the Marshall law school’s Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law, said 4,000 to 5,000 booklets have been distributed to judges nationwide. The school hopes to have the booklet distributed soon to most, if not all, judicial circuits in the country.
Too Late To Block
Reis said the information is not helpful to judges alone. In this age of electronic technology and identity theft, keeping personal information private should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Information Privacy Center, agreed.
“I think it’s an important concern,” he said. “Even though it is increasingly difficult to protect your privacy, I think it would be a big mistake not to do anything.”
Unfortunately, he said, people who want to start removing themselves from database lists are already behind.
Private database companies mine public records for information and keep it in their own files. Even if people close off all access to their information, much of it has been saved in private databases with no chance for removal.
Some companies sell this information to people who can prove why they want to use it. Other companies are less reputable.
These databases can cause headaches for judges and others who worry about personal safety, chief judge Menendez said.
“When you’re 15 and you fill out a warranty card, you don’t think, ‘Well, one day, I’m going to be a judge,’” he said.
Adjusting To New Threats
New judges go through an orientation program in which security and privacy are addressed, Menendez said. From time to time, security experts speak to judges with updates on privacy techniques, he said.
Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who was sworn in barely three months ago, said her two years as a federal prosecutor helped her realize the need for security.
Not long after taking the prosecution job, she ran into a couple of mildly threatening incidents, she said.
“It does wake you up to the dangers that are out there just because you have a certain role to fill,” Moody said. “It was a big adjustment.”
Beyond her efforts to remove herself from public records, courthouse security has offered other tips. She does not carry her robe and does not wear an ID badge in courthouse hallways, so she doesn’t look conspicuously like a judge.
Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan, also recently sworn in, said she walked through the courthouse with a bailiff and someone shouted, “Hi, Judge.”
The bailiff told Sheehan he wished they wouldn’t do that. She said she agreed. She wishes people wouldn’t be so formal and would just call her Tracy.
The bailiff wasn’t complaining about the formality, though. As a security precaution, courthouse staff members discourage people from identifying judges in public.
Sheehan said she does not want to become paranoid and won’t live in a glass bubble. Still, asked whether she thinks she will receive a threat some day, she thought for a while.
“You know,” she said, “I guess it’s inevitable.”