Several states have active bills to define as a separate criminal act threats or intimidation of judges and court staff. Gavel to Gavel 5:2 looked as some of those efforts and in early March both the Washington House and Senate passed bills to increase existing penalties for such crimes (HB 1794 & SB 5046). The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee, however, has rejected a similar effort today (audio here).
“Intimidation or threats” include, but are not limited to, actions or words that:
1. Directly or indirectly threaten physical force, economic loss, damage to property, damage to career, or damage to the reputation of a judge or a member of the judge’s immediate family;
2. Are intended to create a situation requiring recusal or disqualification of a judge; or
3. Consist of contacts or attempts to contact or that create a pattern of contact with a judge or a member of the judge’s immediate family under false pretenses which would reasonably cause a judge or a member of the judge’s immediate family to fear for his or her safety.
Opponents suggested that the “economic loss”, “damage to career”, and “damage to reputation” provisions would make any conversation about opposing the judge for election or suggesting that someone should run against the judge a criminal act.
Senator Anitere Flores, chair of the committee, urged the sponsor to work with opponents to narrow the language and noted the bill was prompted, in part, by an actual case of judicial intimidation in the sponsor’s district.
The bill failed on a 3-4 vote. It is unclear what the rejection will mean for the House version.