Judge Killed in Atlanta Courthouse Shooting

Officials: Judge killed in courthouse shooting (CNN-AP)

A defendant stole a weapon from a deputy and shot and killed a judge at the Fulton County courthouse Friday morning, officials told CNN. TV reports said a court reporter and two deputies may also have been shot.

Atlanta police spokeswoman Marion Lee said one person was shot in the courthouse parking lot and another was shot outside the courtroom, reportedly on the eighth floor of the courthouse. Officials said police were seeking a suspect who was on the loose in downtown Atlanta. The suspect may have tried to carjack several vehicles, reports said.

A disturbing trend, although one I’m surprised has taken this long to emerge. Judges are incredibly powerful and, frankly, often rather arbitrary and smug. It’s no surprise that a lot of people are angry at them.

Clearly, upgrading security is necessary. At a minimum, better training of the security personnel on site would be helpful, to preclude people from stealing their sidearms.

Update (1235): Some background reading on this I’ve been doing to prep for my TV appearance:

Chicago killings raise worries of U.S. judges about security – Marshals Service deals with rising flow of threats (Newsday, March 11)

In courthouses across the country, the case heightened concerns about how best to protect judges, their staff and families – an issue that has gained attention in recent years as sensitive terror cases have reached the federal courts and as public battles over judicial nominations have grown increasingly contentious.

It also has raised questions about how well-equipped the U.S. Marshals Service is to respond to the nearly 700 threats made against federal judges each year, well above the roughly 200 threats a year it received two decades ago. In 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available, the agency provided security details to 20 federal judges and assistant U.S. attorneys considered to be at high risk.
Security experts say judges who are attacked usually know their assailant, but that person often is not the most obvious, or even the most dangerous, defendant on their docket. “Research on violence to public officials strongly suggests that the people who act generally are not the ones who reach out before,” said Frederick S. “Ted” Calhoun, who developed the threat-assessment process used by the Marshals Service and who has written extensively about violence against judicial officials. “You can’t fall into a trap of thinking the case has to be weighty or important. It all depends on how important the case is to that person.”


The Marshals Service is almost certain to face close scrutiny in that review. A report last year by the Justice Department’s inspector general said that in spite of funding and staffing increases since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Marshals Service “routinely failed to meet its internal standards that require threats against judges to be assessed within a specific time period.” The report also concluded that “the validity of [the agency’s] assessments is questionable because the historical threat database used to assess reported threats has not been updated since 1996.”

In a written response, the Marshals Service noted its long record of success. Only three federal judges were killed between 1979 and 1998, and none in the past six years. The agency said it was addressing concerns about the timeliness and adequacy of its threat assessment system, but officials did not respond this week to requests for comment.

Blaming the Marshals is clearly not the answer here. The killing of three federal judges in a quarter century is hardly an epidemic. We just need to take measures to ensure that the Lefkow family killings and ones such as happened in Atlanta today don’t become a trend.

Judge’s Family Killings May Be a First (UPI – Law Enforcement News, March 2)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. As with all crime that make headlines, we are going to see a spike in violence toward judges. Following the murders in Chicago and the media attention that followed, there will be copycat incidents across the country. There is a distinct need for increased security as we have only seen the beginning of these kinds of acts. If security is tightened immediately, hopefully the copy cats will not be able to create an epidemic.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Amen on the arrogance.

  3. Me says:

    Hmm…now how exactly did the defendant get the gun from a deputy? Don’t they have to pretty much keep those weapons secure??

  4. Wendall says:

    Smug Judges? It’s incredible that you could even give the remotest bit of justification for a rapist and murderer taking innocent lives. You should be ashamed.

  5. Dignan says:

    I don’t disagree that judges can be smug and arbitrary, but in this case Judge Barnes was far from that. All reports that I have heard and friends of mine who knew him say that he was a wonderful man who was extremely compassionate to those who came into his courtroom.

  6. Anderson says:

    I see that others have commented on the mean-spirited slur on judges. If a blogger gets shot, I’d imagine that we could dust off the “incredibly arbitrary and smug” language and use it on *that* occasion. There are very few judges who aren’t taking a huge pay cut by staying on the bench instead of going private, and I doubt that very many of them are doing it so they can be “arbitrary and smug.”

    (Interned for a federal district judge, clerked for a state supreme court justice, so I guess I’m biased—two finer judges, Christians, and just plain people I shall seldom hope to meet.)

  7. McGehee says:

    I’d agree with Dignan that the reference to “arbitrary and smug” judges doesn’t appear applicable to Barnes based on today’s reporting. I don’t think it was James’ intent to say Barnes is that way. That said, the “arbitrary and smug” comment does hit kind of a sour note.