In November, state district Judge Judy Kocurek was shot in the driveway of her Austin home – a murder attempt that had been preceded by a phone tip to police. Kocurek was never informed of the threat against her.
Tony Plohetski, investigative reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, said it’s unclear how many threats are made against judges in Texas and judges aren’t always informed of the threats to their safety.
In Kocurek’s case, after the threat tip came in two to three weeks before the shooting, investigators deemed it not credible.
“There had been a threat, a phone call to the DA’s office here in Travis County… from a tipster who reported that she knew someone – she identified this man Chimene Onyeri – as someone who was making a threat to kill a judge,” Plohetski says. “The investigators looked into it, they tried to trace the origin of the threat, and everything they could learn.”
Investigators thought that the threat had to do with a different judge outside of Travis County, potentially in Louisiana, where Onyeri had other pending cases. While the investigators did pass on information to the county sheriff’s office, which provides courthouse security, the sheriff’s office did not pass it on to the judges.
During the Statesman’s investigation of threats to judges, Plohteski says they found that they seem to happen more frequently than they’re reported.
“There is a legal requirement that was put in place by the legislature in 2007 that counties must report threats – any kind of judicial threat – to the state office of court administration,” Plohteski says. “We found that, in fact, that is likely not happening as it should be happening.”
Aside from state policy, federal authorities also have strict protocols in place.
“The difference does seem to be when we’re talking about state, county, local judges, less stringent protocols seem to be in place, and less reporting appears to be in place for those judges,” Plohteski says.
The state is looking to bolster the reporting process, he says. “It’s not just so that they have numbers, they want to use those numbers to then try to figure out whether or not more steps should be taken to protect Texas judges,” Ploheteski says.
He says the state is surveying judges across the state to find what kind of protocol they have in place.
“(The state’s) potentially again trying to figure out exactly how many threats like this happen every year,”Plohteski says, “and then using that information to go to the state, potentially the lawmakers, to get more money for funding for judicial security.”