“My reaction is heartache. My heart is broken. Another family is going to have to endure what Mark and I have been living with for now 23 months,” US District Court Judge Esther Salas told CNN Sunday. “It is senseless. It is dangerous. And we need to start protecting judges all over this country.”
Salas spoke to CNN two days after former Juneau County Circuit Court Judge John Roemer, 68, was killed in his home in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, in what appeared to be a targeted attack, the state Justice Department said in a statement. The suspect has a criminal history in the state dating back to at least 2002, when he was convicted of armed burglary and firearms charges, and the case came before Judge Roemer in 2005, according to court records.
Judge Salas has personal experience with a similar such tragedy. In July 2020, a gunman dressed as a delivery worker arrived to her New Jersey home, killed her son Daniel Anderl and wounded her husband.
The gunman, Roy Den Hollander, was a terminally ill lawyer and men’s rights activist who had previously argued a case before Salas and, on his website, disparaged her in racist and sexist terms. He was found dead in New York after the shooting of what was believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Speaking on Sunday, Salas said the killing of Judge Roemer was part of what judges deal with every day in doing their jobs.
“Many judges have lost their lives for doing one thing: their job, upholding democracy,” she said. “Really judges do stand at the front line ensuring that democracy is, you know, alive and well in our country.”
The US Marshals Service has reported a rise in threats to judges in recent years. Threats and inappropriate comments made to the judiciary nearly doubled from 2016 to 2018 and have remained at an elevated level – about 4,500 in 2021 – ever since, according to the Marshals Service. The US Marshals are tasked with protecting about 2,700 judges, as well as 30,000 federal prosecutors and court officials.
Since her son’s death, Salas has pushed for legislation known as the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act. The bill would protect the privacy of current and former federal judges and their families by keeping personal information such as home addresses and vehicle information from databases and public records.
“We’re in a unique position. We preside over cases and 50% of the time people are not happy with us,” Salas said. “If the death of my 20-year-old son and now of Judge Roemer doesn’t say we need something done to protect this personally identifiable information, I don’t know what will.”
The bill has bipartisan sponsors in the US Senate and House but failed to pass by a unanimous consent last month due to an objection from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said it should be expanded to include members of Congress.
The nonprofit group Fix the Court, which has pushed for greater transparency in the federal judiciary, has also noted concerns with some of the bill’s language that could potentially limit information relevant to the public interest.
The suspect in the Wisconsin judge’s killing, Douglas K. Uhde, 56, was found in the basement of the home with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound and is in critical condition, the Wisconsin Justice Department said.
The suspect appeared to also have other targets related to the judicial system, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said. Those targets included Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said on Saturday her name also appeared on the gunman’s list of targets.
Uhde has not been charged in relation to the judge’s killing. CNN was not able to determine if he has a lawyer.
Roemer, the former state judge, was first elected to the bench in 2004 and was reelected in 2010 and 2016. He retired in August 2017.
“Judge Roemer dedicated much of his career to public service in the law,” Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler said in a statement. “Before taking the bench in 2004, he had served as an assistant district attorney and as an assistant state public defender. He was known by colleagues for his sharp legal mind and his willingness to share his time and knowledge with others.”