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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 30: Court officers stand guard as members of the press gather across from the Manhattan Criminal Court after the conclusion of former U.S. President Donald Trump hush money trial on 30 May 2024 in New York City. A jury found former U.S. President Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. Sentencing is set for 11 July. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

After Trump Guilty Verdict, Questions Arise on Judge and Jurors’ Physical Safety Measures

Twelve New York jurors handed down an unprecedented ruling on Thursday, convicting former U.S. President Donald J. Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a hush-money conspiracy that affected the 2016 presidential election.

“Donald Trump is guilty of repeatedly and fraudulently falsifying business records in a scheme to conceal damaging information from American voters during the 2016 presidential election,” said Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., in a statement following the conviction. “Mr. Trump went to illegal lengths to lie repeatedly in order to protect himself and his campaign. In Manhattan, we follow the facts without fear or favor and have a solemn responsibility to ensure equal justice under the law regardless of the background, wealth, or power of the accused. The integrity of our judicial system depends on upholding that principle.”

The guilty verdict marked the first criminal conviction of a former U.S. president. It also posed unique security risks for court officials—from Justice Juan Merchan who oversaw the trial, Bragg and his team of prosecutors, witnesses called to testify, and jurors who served.

During the trial, Trump falsely claimed the judge and prosecutors were acting on behalf of the Biden administration to ruin his re-election campaign. Trump’s followers responded with threats of violence to judges and prosecutors. After the verdict was announced Thursday evening, commenters online began calling for attacks on the jurors and Judge Merchan, as well as other acts of violence.

This mirrors a national trend of rising threats towards courthouse officials. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) provides protection and security for roughly 2,700 federal judges, 30,300 federal prosecutors and court officials, and more than 800 federal facilities. In fiscal year 2022—the most recent year data is available for—USMS investigated 1,362 threats to personnel it protects, up from just 373 in 2019.

The USMS also disrupted an assassination attempt on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2022, intercepting the suspect outside of the justice’s home and charging him with attempt to kidnap or murder a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The suspect was allegedly upset about a leaked draft of the Court’s opinion on abortion rights, as well as an upcoming gun control case and a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, according to the USMS.

This is a “huge threat” facing the criminal justice system, with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even some jurors being threatened physically or on social media, says Dr. Joshua Sinai, professor of practice for intelligence and global security studies at Capitol Technology University, in an email to Security Management.

“This is why it is so crucial for U.S. Marshals and others in charge of protecting [jurors and judges] to utilize social media monitoring services to track such threats, with local law enforcement then following up by talking to them in person to let them know such threats are unacceptable, unlawful, and subject to indictment and arrest,” Sinai says.

The Office of Court Administration oversees security for New York’s court system and worked with the New York Police Department to secure the courthouse during the trial. But it is unclear what level of protection—if any—will be provided to jurors, prosecutors, and Merchan following the conclusion of the trial.

In a statement shared on her office’s website, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she had directed her administration to “closely coordinate with local and federal law enforcement, and we continue to monitor the situation. We are committed to protecting the safety of all New Yorkers and the integrity of our judicial system.”

Neither the Office of Court Administration, Hochul’s office, nor D.A. Bragg’s office returned Security Management’s request for comment on this story.

Social media monitoring is included in the best practices recommendations for courthouse security from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). The guidance recommends training court security officers—or appropriate staff—on how to monitor social media platforms to identify and track potential threats.

“Establish an electronic system for reporting threats and incidents to enable quick review and deployment of resources and to enable organization of data and analysis by law enforcement and authorized stakeholders,” according to Best Practices for Court Building Security. “A database should be maintained on all pertinent information, to include organizational responses and any follow-up activities. Databases should be maintained at the local and state level.”

This is why it is so crucial for U.S. Marshals and others in charge of protecting [jurors and judges] to utilize social media monitoring services to track such threats.

For jurors, the guide suggests providing individuals with court security information before they report for duty (such as where to enter the courthouse, what not to bring, and who to contact about security and safety concerns), physical screening when entering the courthouse, security and building evacuation orientation, and a bailiff or court security officer assigned to the jury for the entirety of the trial.

The guide also recommends self-defense training for judges and escorts for justices to and from parking areas when leaving the courthouse for the day. Additionally, NCSC provides a home security audit and recommendations tool for judges and personal safety tips for judges and court staff.

Sinai adds that the homes of judges involved in high-profile cases should be safeguarded and justices should be provided with continuous security details. The need for these measures was brought into focus when a man intent on harming U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas murdered her son, Daniel Anderl, and shot her husband at her home in 2020.

The attack prompted a spur of legislation that allows judges—and their close family members—to remove their personally identifiable information, including home addresses, from the Internet. New York will enact its own version of this law in July, dubbed the New York State Judicial Security Act, which would create protections for judges.

Sinai says he is skeptical at how effective this will be because determined threat actors can always find a way to reach judges. It will also not impede threat actors’ ability to post threatening information online or send it to a judge’s office.

“The key is to upgrade a proactive deterrence posture that will go after the perpetrators with severe countermeasures,” Sinai says.

The U.S. federal judiciary is requesting an additional $40 million for court security in response to threats, as well as $13.6 million for U.S. Supreme Court Police to handle residential security for Supreme Court justices, Bloomberg Law reported.

Political rhetoric, especially in a contentious election season, is ratcheting up threats against the judiciary and making these efforts all the more urgent, Sinai says.

“The ‘big elephant in the room’ is Donald Trump, whose demagogic attacks against them spur his followers to take action on his behalf against them,” he adds. “I know this is a controversial issue to bring up—but he is responsible for much of today’s anti-judicial system violence and threats.”