WASHINGTON – The federal judge whose mother and husband were gunned down in their suburban Chicago home by an angry ex-litigant spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about the need for more protection of those who sit on the bench.
"An entire family has lost its ability to assume that when we walk through the door of our own homes, we will be safe there," U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow (search) told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Feb. 28, Lefkow returned from work and found her husband Michael, an attorney, and 89-year-old mother, Donna Humphrey, shot to death in the basement.
"2-28 is our own personal 9-11. Since 2-28, our family includes a daughter and her husband who have to explain to their young children why their grandfather is now with God and they will not see him again; two daughters who will not have their beaming father to walk them down the aisle at their weddings; and two who will not have dad to join the fun at high school and college graduations," she said.
Bart Ross (search), whose lawsuit was dismissed by Lefkow, shot himself to death March 9 at a traffic stop in suburban Milwaukee. Police later found a note in which he confessed to killing Judge Lefkow's husband and mother.
Ross said in the note that he was retaliating against Lefkow because she threw out a malpractice suit he had filed against a hospital blaming doctors for his facial disfigurement. Ross claimed he was subjected to radiation therapy without his knowledge and consent following surgery to remove oral cancer at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago in 1992.
Lefkow petitioned the lawmakers to continue to "make judicial protection a priority." She pointed out ways to protect those that enforce the rule of law and keep society from becoming one based on "right being defined by might."
She urged rapid distribution of the funds Congress has appropriated for home security systems for judges.
"Now that the funds are there, I ask that members of this committee make clear to the director of the Marshals Service (search) its intent that this money be distributed to the judges in the field as quickly as the judges can make arrangements for installation," she said.
She also said that legislation is needed to help keep personal information of judges and other public officials off the Internet unless written consent is given. Though she did not expect an absolute resolution to this matter, she said any help is worth it.
"Although it may never be stopped entirely, limits on commercial trafficking in such information is, I believe, feasible and essential," she said.
She also called for "adequate funding for adequate staffing and pay equity for the United States Marshals Service.
"We need a trained deputy marshal present at all court hearings, criminal and civil, who can be our eyes and ears to identify and follow up on litigants who appear to be dangerous," she said.
Lefkow said "security ... planning and training need analysis at the top," and offered thanks to the officials that stepped in and took her family to safety after the tragedy. "These deputies were the knot at the end of our rope for weeks, and not one of them has been anything but compassionate, available and committed beyond the call of duty."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., criticized what he described as inflammatory rhetoric aimed at judges, an argument repeated from last month after Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor that he wondered "whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."
Cornyn later said he was regretful his word choice may have suggested that "activist judges" invited violence against them.
Lefkow picked up on Durbin's theme, saying the "fostering of disrespect" can only encourage violence against the judiciary.
"In this age of mass communication, harsh rhetoric is truly dangerous. It seems to me even though we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges in general and violent acts of vengeance, the fostering of disrespect for judges can only encourage those who are on the edge or on the fringe to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them."
FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.