Chief Justice Hecht, Judge Kocurek to push for more courthouse security

Outside of a hearing at the Texas Capitol on judicial salaries, Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, spoke to me about a problem plaguing Texas judges: fear.

He said that judges who took a recent Office of Court Administration survey “overwhelmingly” reported that they fear personal harm because of decisions made on the bench.

Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek

The November shooting of Travis County Judge Julie Kocurek prompted the survey, to which 43 percent of the state’s judges responded, according to OCA spokesman David Slayton.

About 38 percent of the respondents “indicated feeling afraid for their personal safety at work in the past two years,” Slayton said.

During the survey period – from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5 – 10 percent of respondents experienced that fear at least four times, and 7.4 percent “reported feeling afraid for their safety every day.” Almost 40 percent of judges who reported feeling afraid blamed their fear on a written or verbal threat.

About 43 percent of the judges who responded feared for their safety away from work in the past five years, Slayton said, with 10 percent reporting that occurrence at least four times during the survey week and 4 percent reporting being afraid outside of work every day.

To address this fear, Hecht said he plans to push the 85th legislature to better secure courthouses and “ask for more personal security for judges in their homes,” he said.

Joining him at the Capitol will be Kocurek, Travis County’s presiding felony judge, who was shot in November outside of her home. She was released from the hospital on Christmas Day and has yet to return to work, a family spokesman said. Even so, Hecht said, Kocurek told him in a meeting Wednesday that she wanted to be a part of Hecht’s efforts.

“She’s gone through literally hell, and her family has gone through hell,” Hecht said. “She’s going to carry all of this with her the rest of her life, but she’s very strong.”

Hecht said Kocurek, who’s served on the bench for 17 years, could easily retire now.

“She told me that she was determined not to,” Hecht said during the Thursday hearing, “because she didn’t want anybody to think that you could drive a judge from a bench by threatening lives.”

* the OCA report findings will be released in a few weeks, spokesman David Slayton said. 

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