AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A Texas Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Monday that would increase security for courts and judges in the Lone Star State, following testimony from a judge who was nearly assassinated at her home in 2015.
Senate Bill 42, authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would amend current state laws relating to the security of courts and judges.
An assassination attempt on Travis County District Court Judge Julie Kocurek in November 2015 revealed glaring weaknesses in security for state judges and in courts. Kocurek was shot and severely injured in her driveway as part of an alleged plot to kill her.
Travis County officials were supposedly aware of a threat but did not inform Kocurek, who recovered from her injuries and later returned to the courtroom. She was awarded a $500,000 settlement because of the county’s improper handling of the threat. The three suspected perpetrators of the attack are in jail and awaiting trial.
A subsequent survey of Texas judges revealed that nearly two-thirds of them did not know of or have a court security plan.
As a result of the attack, the Texas Judicial Council established a Court Security Committee, which found deficiencies in court security practices, training and funding.
The council recommended various changes, including the creation of a director of security and emergency preparedness position at the Office of Court Administration (OCA), establishment of local court security committees, required security training for judges and court personnel, and the removal of judges’ personal information from public documents.
SB 42 would implement those changes. It would also require a copy of a security incident report to be given to the OCA for any incident involving court security, and add a $5 filing fee in civil cases to pay for security training.
The bill defines “court security officer” as a sheriff, sheriff's deputy, municipal peace officer or any other person who provides security for an appellate, district, county, municipal or justice court in the state.
Those officers would be required to have a court security certification from a training program approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement within one year of the date the officer began providing security for the court.
Importantly, SB 42 authorizes the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide personal security to a state judge who has been threatened or attacked. Such protection can also occur at locations outside of the jurisdiction in which the judge serves.
The bill would allow federal and state judges and their spouses to redact personal information from public records, including information on financial statements, county registration lists, appraisal records and driver’s licenses.
On Monday, Judge Kocurek and her 17-year-old son Will testified before the Senate Committee on State Affairs about the 2015 attack and importance of the bill.
Will described the night his mother was attacked: “I always thought the violence that she saw would stay in her courtroom. But on Nov. 6, 2015, that all changed.”