Furor in the Court

Judge Frederic Block.Photo: Eliot Shepard

It’s a clear-cut case, they claim, of unequal protection: In the Eastern District of New York, federal judges are fuming about a lack of courthouse security—especially compared with their more glamorous Manhattan-based cousins in the Southern District.

“The Eastern District gets treated ludicrously,” says Judge Frederic Block. “It’s like we’re in Fallujah and they’re in the Green Zone.” Metal fences guard the federal courthouse in Manhattan, and during major-crowd events, agents with assault rifles scan the perimeter. But in Brooklyn, a lonely patrol car is parked outside the still-under-construction courthouse. The district, which stretches from the East River to Montauk, has 62 marshals assigned to it. The number was higher before the U.S. Marshal Service in D.C. transferred fifteen from the Eastern District to the Southern to protect two judges who’d been presiding over terrorism cases. In response, the chief judge for the Eastern District, Edward Korman, wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general, demanding replacements for the lost marshals.

Judge Block, noting the recent assaults on judges across the country, claims that the transfer of marshals has already put his life in danger. During a criminal hearing that took place in a courtroom with no holding pen, a single marshal brought out a group of prisoners and lined them up against a wall. Block shut down the proceedings: “I’m not going to engage in any sentencing. These people were three feet away from me. It’s not fair to me, my family.”

The perception in D.C. is that the Eastern District sees less-dangerous suspects than the Southern. But Brooklyn is hardly small-claims territory. Sheik Mohammed Ali Hasan al-Moayad, accused of funneling money to Al Qaeda, awaits sentencing there. And while the U.S. marshal in charge of the district, Eugene Corcoran, wouldn’t say he’s short of guards, he did admit to being “cautiously optimistic we’ll have additional personnel” when the new courthouse opens. In the meantime, Judge Block feels a little exposed, particularly after 6 P.M., when the patrol car leaves: “The only people left in the building are judges and clerks. They must think we’re expendable. Or that the terrorists keep bankers’ hours.”

Furor in the Court