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Threats towards judges in Trump-related cases have hit unprecedented levels

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's not unusual for judges to get threats - from the Mafia, terrorist organizations or street criminals. None of that compares to the level of abuse and hostility against judges hearing cases involving former President Donald Trump. One of those judges, Juan Merchan, just expanded a gag order on Trump after the former president named Merchan's daughter and posted photos of her on Truth Social. A report from Reuters finds that threats against courts and justice officials have tripled since 2015. Ned Parker is one of the reporters who worked on this story. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NED PARKER: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You spoke to more than a dozen judges for this story, and you open by talking about one of them, Judge Royce Lamberth, who has been on the court for a very long time and never seen anything like this. What's his experience been?

PARKER: Right. What struck him is the high volume of threats he's receiving related to January 6 cases. His wife, related to one case, received a phone call at home where a person described wanting to kill her husband.

SHAPIRO: Well, it falls to the U.S. Marshals Service to protect federal judges and other court personnel. You reviewed their data. You interviewed people with the Marshals. Are they able to handle this wave of threats and hostility?

PARKER: The challenge for the Marshals Service is - right? - we've seen 27,000 threats against the federal courts from the fall of 2015 through the fall of 2022, a volume they consider unprecedented in their history. Along with that, we've seen, since 2020, a doubling of what they would consider to be serious threats against judges. And then the challenge with that is, how do you determine whether someone is serious about acting, and when is it just a threat?

SHAPIRO: And you've looked at the database of threats against federal judges, but there is no central recordkeeping for information about threats against state and local judges. And Juan Merchan, who we mentioned, the judge hearing the Trump case involving Stormy Daniels, he's not a federal judge, so his case is not recorded in this data. So do you have a sense of how those officials are doing?

PARKER: Well, we spoke to a lot of state judges for our story, and it's interesting. There's been an increase in threats. For instance, in Maricopa County in Arizona, where there were many cases related to the 2020 election and the 2022 election, the courts there have, you know, recorded a spike in threats. They've seen more than 400 cases of threats and harassments against their judges and staff.

But broadly, local judges feel, in their words, what they described to us is that there is a breakdown in trust that people have for the court system, and they also felt that the broader drama on the national stage, where there's such heated rhetoric - whether it comes from Democrats, Republicans or a certain branch of government - that it trickles down to the local level.

SHAPIRO: You report that arrests in these cases are very rare, so is anything being done to stop this?

PARKER: Well, legislation has been passed to - on the federal level and in some states - to protect judges' personal information with the idea that their addresses, their phone numbers won't be put online, and they won't be harassed. The challenge is that the genie is out of the bottle in that it's so easy to find somebody online at this point. And then the other dilemma is that when there is such, at times, violent and volatile language that's used to describe any institute of government or public servant, once you have this charged rhetoric, it's very hard to de-escalate it.

SHAPIRO: Reuters reporter Ned Parker, thank you.

PARKER: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.