Georgia judges need protection amid threats, high court chief judge says

New legislation would safeguard judges’ personal information
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs delivers the annual state of the judiciary address to Georgia legislators on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs delivers the annual state of the judiciary address to Georgia legislators on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

A brazen attack on a Las Vegas judge by a criminal defendant who leapt over her bench during a sentencing hearing, the murder of two judges in their Wisconsin and Maryland homes, and a plot to kill judges in Nevada have exposed the vulnerability of judicial officers, the head of Georgia’s high court said Wednesday.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs referenced the incidents as he called on the state’s lawmakers to support new legislation to help protect Georgia judges amid rising threats nationwide.

Closer to home, a Cobb County judge received a threatening letter from a man who vowed to kill, cook and eat the judge’s children. The Fulton County judge presiding over the criminal racketeering case against Young Thug and others appeared in video posted online to field prank calls from the rapper’s fans. And Brian Nichols’ courtroom rampage in 2005 left four people dead and a sheriff’s deputy brain damaged.

During his annual state of the judiciary address at the Gold Dome, the chief justice said a judicial security committee established by the Supreme Court a little over a year ago is working on several initiatives to safeguard the state’s judges.

“Georgia judges will not be threatened or intimidated into abandoning their constitutional duties, but incidents like these are repugnant to the rule of law and, if left unchecked, they threaten the very independence of our judiciary,” Boggs told legislators.

The first big step taken by the judicial security committee is to advance legislation to protect the personal information of judges and their spouses, including residential addresses and personal phone numbers.

Members of the Judicial Council of Georgia unanimously voted to support the measure during their last regular meeting on Dec. 8.

“This legislation would develop a process to identify and manage judges’ personally identifiable information and notify state and local government entities of personally identifiable information that must be restricted from publicly available content,” Presiding Justice Nels S.D. Peterson said during the meeting. “We anticipate continued conversation around what this process would look like as well as conversations with partners and stakeholders.”

Justices of the Georgia Supreme Court walk into the Georgia House of Representatives chambers for the annual state of the judiciary address on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Boggs said Wednesday that the increasing attacks on judges around the country over the last few years is alarming.

A retired Wisconsin judge was murdered in his home in June 2022 by a defendant he’d sent to prison. In October, a Maryland judge was fatally shot in his driveway by a man he’d ruled against hours earlier in a child custody case. The attacks on Nevada judges were more recent.

Boggs told lawmakers that 31 other states have already passed or are pursuing proposals to safeguard judges’ personal information.

The recommendations for improving security for Georgia judges could also apply to state legislators and other elected officials, he said. The judge said the judicial security committee is working with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to design security training for all state court judges and the law enforcement officers they interact with, to be rolled out this spring.

“We know that y’all are dealing with similar challenges which have become all too real for too many of you in recent weeks,” Boggs told legislators. “We all hope that you will find these recommendations reasonable and responsive to a growing threat.”

The annual cost of protecting Georgia judges’ sensitive information is expected to be about $163,000, judicial council records show. Proposed legislation, expected to be tabled soon, would take effect in July 2025 if approved.

Boggs said Georgia’s judiciary is strong though it continues to deal with serious challenges, including a severe shortage of staff. He said the state desperately needs more prosecutors, public defenders and private practice attorneys as well as court reporters and sheriff’s deputies for courtroom security.

A stark number of court staff, including judges, are aging out of the profession or leaving public service in favor of better-paid private sector jobs, Boggs said. He asked legislators to support proposed salary increases for state judges.

“Today’s rate of pay is not as competitive as the salaries offered by the courts in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and this compensation landscape adds another layer of difficulty to our efforts to attract and retain top-tier talent,” the chief justice said.