In 2020 this board called for enhanced security for state court judges and their families following the murder of Judge Esther Salas’ son and the wounding of her husband at their New Jersey residence.
In that case, the murderer was a deranged lawyer wearing a delivery uniform who had specifically targeted the judge. Very recently Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson fell victim to the same sort of senseless violence when he was gunned down in the driveway of his Hagerstown home by a killer believed to have been a defendant in a domestic case he heard earlier that day.
In 2020 we wrote state court judges are not immune to the acts of violence that destroyed Salas’ family, but we did not expect an example in our own home state and so soon.
Judges’ personal information in Maryland is laid bare for anyone to see and use. For example, their financial disclosure forms are available to the public; their property records disclose where they are likely to live; motor vehicle records can be used to learn the cars they drive. And there is more.
Unfortunately, the times we live in appear to be even more dangerous than they were in 2020. We asked the Maryland legislature to consider a bill similar to the proposed Daniel Andrel Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020, which was enacted into law last December by Congress and covered federal judges.
Such a bill would define “at risk individuals” as judges and their immediate families. It would prevent data services from publishing certain sensitive information, such as residential addresses and directions to these addresses. It would bar publication of the names of members of the immediate family, personal telephone numbers and email addresses, Social Security and driver’s license numbers, vehicle registration data, property tax records, including first and vacation residences, and identification of children under the age of 18, schools and day care such children attend and the name and location of employers of family members.
As a part of this proposal, we suggest that Maryland government agencies should be directed to mark such information in their possession as confidential and not allow its disclosure.
Our suggestion in 2020 was that such a bill would require Maryland businesses, upon request, to remove personally identifiable and protectable information within a reasonable time, including that information that was posted on the internet.
Our final suggestion to the Maryland legislature was that any person protected by this privacy law would have standing to seek injunctive relief for a violation and the person or entity responsible would pay legal fees.
Better yet, a bill should also allow the Maryland Attorney General to step in and act on behalf of an affected judge, without removing that judge’s right to act if the Attorney General fails to do so.
What just happened in Hagerstown demonstrates our state court judges need and deserve protection. There is little doubt in our minds that the legislature should act promptly to protect our judges from those who would seek to do harm.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Susan F. Martielli
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.