The chief justice of Maryland’s top court will hold a virtual meeting with judges from across the state to answer questions about security, an issue that has been top of mind for the legal community since last month’s fatal shooting of Washington County Circuit Judge Andrew Wilkinson.
Maryland Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew J. Fader will hold the Zoom session on Nov. 28, according to an email obtained by The Daily Record.
The email invites “all justices, judges, magistrates, and commissioners” to a meeting to discuss “security issues on which the Judiciary has been working.” The email, sent Thursday afternoon, does not specify those security issues.
Judicial officers have also been asked to email their questions, comments and concerns about security efforts ahead of the meeting.
Bradley Tanner, a spokesperson for the judiciary, described the meeting in an email as “an internal update on a range of security matters.”
“We are not in a position to share those matters except to say the Judiciary is committed to exploring multiple paths to enhance security,” Tanner said.
Through Tanner, Fader recently declined an interview request from The Daily Record to speak about judicial security.
The meeting was announced as judges and lawyers are on edge following Wilkinson’s slaying last month. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the Oct. 19 shooting was a “targeted attack” by Pedro Argote, a man who had lost custody of his children at a court hearing before Wilkinson earlier that day.
Police found Argote’s body in a wooded area near Maryland’s border with West Virginia a week after the shooting. Authorities have not said how they developed Argote as a suspect or how Argote found Wilkinson’s home in Hagerstown. Wilkinson was shot in his driveway while his wife and son were home, law enforcement said.
Argote did not appear at the court hearing where Wilkinson granted his wife a divorce and sole custody of the couple’s four children that day. Testimony at the hearing revealed that Argote was a controlling husband and father who monitored his family with surveillance cameras and kept them confined to their house.
He abused his wife and children both emotionally and financially, according to the testimony, and sometimes became violent. Wilkinson ruled that Argote was “not fit” to parent his children, ages 12, 11, 5 and 3, and found that he was “abusive in multiple ways.”
“It’s shocking,” Wilkinson said in court, according to an audio recording of the Oct. 19 hearing.
“It’s clear to me that there has been abuse,” Wilkinson said. “That’s not even taking into consideration the isolation that he put these kids under.”
The shooting laid bare just how vulnerable judges can be to security threats, particularly when they are dealing with bitter family law issues and domestic abusers.
In the weeks since, judges have expressed ongoing concerns about security issues and heard little from officials in the state judiciary.
Shortly after Wilkinson’s death, state lawmakers said they would prioritize legislation to grant judges and their families more privacy. In 2022, Congress passed legislation allowing federal judges to remove personal information from government internet sites after the 2020 murder of the 20-year-old son of a district court judge in New Jersey.