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Senate passes court security bill named in honor of Austin judge who was attacked

The Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 passed the chamber Tuesday.

District Judge Julie Kocurek, who was severely injured in a 2015 shooting, greets state Rep. Tomas Uresti after she was mentioned in Chief Justice Nathan Hecht's State of the Judiciary speech on Feb. 1, 2017.

*Clarification appended

The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a court security bill that would require personal protection for judges who have been threatened or attacked.

The bill is named in honor of state District Judge Julie Kocurek, who was attacked in 2015 outside her Austin home. Kocurek's assailant shot at her several times, and she suffered serious injuries from shattered glass and shrapnel. After months of rehabilitation, she returned to the bench in early 2016. Three men – including Chimene Onyeri, who faced probation revocation in her court – were indicted in a plot to kill Kocurek.

A phoned-in tip a couple of weeks before the shooting that a judge's life had been threatened was briefly investigated, but with few details it was deemed not credible. Kocurek did not know about the threat.

"Lack of training, lack of information, lack of procedure" led to Kocurek's attack, said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, author of Senate Bill 42, known as the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017.

The measure now goes to the House, where a similar bill is pending in the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

After Kocurek's shooting, the state's Office of Court Administration emailed a survey to judges across the state. Of the 1,115 judges who responded, 38 percent said they feared for their personal safety at least once at work in the past two years. Forty-two percent said they were afraid at least once when away from work.

The bill would require local law enforcement to send reports to the Office of Court Administration about any court security incidents. It would also create a $5 filing fee in civil cases to fund support for training for court security. And it would create a judicial security division that would be a central point for court security information. The bill would take effect on Sept. 1. 

Following passage, the Senate adopted a resolution honoring both Kocurek, for her resilience, and her son Will, who tried to block the assailant and called police. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who authored the resolution, said Kocurek's son shouldn't have had to be tested in that way.

"It's unfortunate that he was in a situation that he had to show his character," Watson said, as Kocurek and her son stood on the Senate floor.

Zaffirini praised the pair for not being intimidated and pushing for the bill's passage.

"You are a lesson in courage," she told Will Kocurek. "She stands beside you today because of you."

Read more:

  • A survey taken after Travis County state District Judge Julie Kocurek was attacked last fall in the driveway of her Austin home found that hundreds of Texas judges have feared for their safety at least once in the last two years. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that an attacker shot at Judge Kocurek outside her home and she was injured by shrapnel.  

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