On January 31, 2024, MSBA President Jason DeLoach testified before legislative committees in support of increased attorney and judicial security across the state and advocated for ongoing participation from MSBA as the Legislature and the Judiciary address immediate and long-term security needs.
President DeLoach testified in support of cross-filed bills, HB664 and SB575, named after slain Washington County Judge Andrew Wilkinson. The proposed legislation would protect personal information of judicial officers and their families and provide a confidential address program, administered through the Office of Information Privacy within the Administrative Office of the Courts. The bill also provides relief, damages, and criminal penalties for violations of the Act and creates a Task Force to identify minimum requirements for courthouse safety and a related legislative proposal, identify current physical security deficiencies in Maryland courthouses, and plans to address these needs.
Following the bill hearing, the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee approved a few amendments and quickly issued a favorable report on SB 575 (10-1). The bill now advances to the full Senate chamber. The House panel has not yet voted on the House version of the bill but resumes hearings and voting this week.
MSBA remains committed to advancing attorney and judicial security across the state on behalf of our members.
View Testimony from the Proceedings
Highlights from President DeLoach’s Testimony
The issue of enhanced judicial and attorney security is paramount to our profession, as many of our members regularly travel in and out of courts and face threats and acts of violence on an escalating scale, most recently with the tragic murder of Judge Andrew Wilkinson outside his home last year.
Judges and attorneys who regularly engage in high-conflict matters, including family and criminal law cases, are at great risk of physical harm and threats. Practitioners have shared experiences of:
- Surveillance and stalking by case parties to their offices and outside their homes,
- Not having any security in courtrooms during heated family law cases, where case facts indicate abuse and violence between litigants,
- Changing phone numbers, email addresses, and upgrading security systems in response to threats of violence from litigants,
- Requesting security escorts to and from courthouses.
The judiciary serves a vital function of upholding the rule of law and serving as a pillar of our democracy and freedom. While other government and public officials may also face threats of violence and physical harm, the judiciary deserves the specific protections in this bill in order to preserve judicial integrity, permitting judges to make impartial decisions without fear of violent threats and harmful physical recourse.
MSBA strongly endorses the establishment of the requested Task Force to Ensure the Safety of Judicial Facilities, to consider both immediate and long-term security needs not only for judges, but for attorneys, court personnel, and all members of the public who go in and out of court. MSBA asks for an amendment to the bill – to include an MSBA representative on the Task Force – as this will allow us to provide firsthand experiences and security concerns of our members in courthouses across the state.
Every judicial officer in the state must be able to decide cases without fear for their safety or for their family.
MSBA’s Written Testimony
The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) supports HB 664/SB 575 – Court Personnel – Protection of Personal Information (Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson Judicial Security Act). The bill authorizes a certain protected individual or the Office of Information Privacy in the Administrative Office of the Courts to request that a governmental entity or person not publish personal information of the individual on the Internet, social media, or social networks or remove the information from any existing publication; specifies certain procedures for the protection of personal information of a protected individual; authorizes certain relief for a violation of the Act.
MSBA represents more attorneys and judges than any other organization across the state in all practice areas. Through its advocacy committees and various practice-specific sections, MSBA monitors and takes positions on legislation that protects the legal profession, preserves the integrity of the judicial system, and ensures access to justice for Marylanders.
Enhancing judicial security and preserving the rule of law is critical to MSBA and the entire legal profession. Most recently, MSBA mourns the killing of Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson, Circuit Court Judge for Washington County and longtime MSBA member. Judge Wilkinson’s murder follows escalating threats and violence faced by Maryland state and federal judges, attorneys, and courthouse personnel on a routine basis.
The judiciary serves a vital function of upholding the rule of law and serving as a pillar of our democracy and freedom. We must preserve judicial integrity and independence, allowing judges to make impartial decisions without fear of violent threats and harmful physical recourse. Attacks on the judiciary can also have a chilling effect on the recruitment and retention of judges, as attorneys must weigh their calling to the highest level of professional service with their personal safety. We must offer specific protections to our judges to preserve the justice system they represent.
The remedies outlined in the bill are carefully drawn to protect the judiciary while balancing the public’s right to information and legitimate business needs. The bill would protect the safety of judges and their families through a practical, straightforward approach to enhance judicial safety. The bill is not overly burdensome, as it limits “personal information” to categories included in recently-enacted federal legislation and similar bills in other states to protect this population. The bill provides a reasonable process and response time to request and remove the information of “protected individuals” and offers appropriate relief, damages, and criminal penalties for violations of the Act. The Office of Information Privacy within the Administrative Office of the Courts, with the authority to shield judicial addresses and to request and respond to personal information requests, will be instrumental in appropriately supporting the needs of the judiciary in implementing this bill.
Judicial security cannot be resolved through the passage of one bill alone. Broad-based efforts to assess both immediate and long-term security needs, including courthouse construction and modernization projects and security recruitment and training programs, must be pursued through the proposed task force. MSBA strongly endorses the establishment of the Task Force to Ensure the Safety of Judicial Facilities and respectfully suggests that “a representative of the Maryland State Bar Association, designated by the President of the Association,” be appointed and included. With membership of thousands of practitioners and judges from across the state, MSBA can provide valuable expertise and firsthand accounts of security deficiencies and needs of courthouses in various Maryland jurisdictions.
Every judicial officer in the state must be able to decide cases without fear for their safety or for their family. For these reasons, MSBA strongly supports the bill and urges a favorable report with the proposed amendment.