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Judge, her family slain, urges home security for jurists

Joan Lefkow says slurs against judiciary encourage revenge crimes

Chicago (Illinois)
Judiciary (system of justice)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal Judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother were killed by a man police believe appeared in her courtroom, asked a Senate committee on Wednesday to fund home security for judges and to repudiate slurs against the judiciary that could incite violence.

Lefkow, in her first public comments since the death of her family members on February 28 -- a day she described as her "personal 9/11" -- spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"As recently as last Friday, which was May 13, I was spotted and harassed in a restaurant in Chicago," the judge said. "Had that harasser come back not with a sign but with a gun, obviously I wouldn't be here today to speak with you."

Congress has passed a $12 million bill to bolster the Marshals Service, which provides protection for federal judges; Lefkow urged that the committee make clear that an appropriate amount of that money must be used "for home-security systems."

Lefkow found the bodies of her husband and mother February 28 at her home on Chicago's North Side. Michael Lefkow, 64, and Donna Grace Humphrey, 89, had been shot to death.

A few days later, Bart Ross, an electrical contractor from Chicago, shot himself when stopped by a police officer in West Allis, Wisconsin. A note in his minivan included information that appeared to confirm Ross was at Lefkow's home the day of the killings, Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline said.

Chicago police sources identified Ross as someone who had once appeared before the judge. In the suicide note, Ross blamed a legal judgment for the loss of his house, job and family, police told CNN.

Lefkow also told the committee that words and attitude are as important as funding, priorities and well-trained security.

"I would ask the members of this committee to publicly and persistently repudiate statements against the judiciary, such as the recent statements of Pat Robertson on television, and some members of Congress," she said.

"Whether liberal or conservative, I have never encountered a judge who can be remotely described, as Mr. Robertson said, as 'more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly planes into buildings.'"

Lefkow noted that a connection between such language and attacks on judges cannot be proved, but "the fostering of disrespect for judges can only encourage those who are on the edge to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them."

"We don't invite the cases," she said "The cases come to us. These decisions can be very difficult. And we call this winning and losing, but the terms are inadequate. This is never a game. These cases entail enormous consequences to the persons involved."

Along with Robertson's comments, made on ABC, Lefkow was referring to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's comment on the day Terri Schiavo died: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior" and comments from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, saying judicial decisions could have a "cause-and-effect" relationship with attacks on judges.

DeLay later apologized for the "inartful way" in which he spoke, while Cornyn said he regretted the "overheated rhetoric" that characterized discussions about judges.

Robertson responded to a letter about his comments from Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, saying he'd been taken out of context and that "no crazed terrorist hiding out in mountain caves" could threaten America, but Supreme Court decisions on abortion and separation of church and state are "graver dangers." He said he owes no apologies.

Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, addressed Lefkow's concerns about such language, noting that free speech is an important value in the United States.

"But some of the comments that you were referring to ... clearly went over the line," he said. Robertson's comment, he said, was "sadly an incendiary remark which Mr. Robertson should have known better.

"He has the right to say what he believes," Durbin said, "but all of us should be denouncing these remarks as totally irresponsible."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, told Lefkow: "The congress will act to provide security for judges" and urged her "not to be reluctant to ask for security."

"You may not be an expert ... but the squeaky wheel gets the oil," he said. "You are well within your rights."

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