An I-Team investigation has found threats to judges in the Miami Valley are on the rise, ranging from verbal attacks in the courtroom to attempted murder-for-hire schemes.
The most recent case involves supporters of a group of juvenile offenders accused of robbing a cell phone store in Huber Heights. When the judge in the case, Anthony Capizzi, told the suspects that they could face trial in adult court and may lead to ten or fifteen years in prison someone posted a threatening message on social media.
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It read: "If I ever see him I'm beating the "expletive " out of him. He better pray I don't catch him downtown coming out of that building."
Capizzi declined to comment on that case or any others in particular but did say that threats cannot influence his rulings.
"I may be concerned for my family and myself, personal safety, but no one is going to threaten me. No one should threaten any judge to the point where the judge is going to change their decision because of the threat," Capizzi said.
Police arrested 24-year-old Devin Wilson and charged him with making the social media threat in the cell phone robbery case. Capizzi is not the only local judge to be targeted.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge Mary Katherine Huffman said she has received a death threat from a man who she had sentenced to prison for complicity to commit murder.
"He was attempting, from prison, to hire someone to kill me, his intended victim and the prosecutor on the case," Huffman said.
Huffman said judges are well aware of the security challenges they face, including death threats. "It really comes with the territory. I really have to say it's not the first one," Huffman said.
Huffman and other judges in Montgomery County have begun taking a closer look at potential security improvements in the Common Pleas Court but have not said publicly what they might have planned.
Another concern is what can happen outside of the courthouse. Last summer a Jefferson County judge was shot and wounded on the sidewalk near the courthouse by an assailant who was upset about a recent ruling. The judge and another court employee were both carrying handguns and returned fire, killing the gunman.
State lawmakers are working on a proposal to allow judges to be able to carry a concealed handgun in more places, including courtrooms.
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"I have a carry conceal permit. I get certified with the sheriff's department every year, said Greene County Common Pleas Judge Stephen Wolaver. "I feel comfortable using a firearm so the answer is, I would have no problem with that concept."
Local courts and the Ohio Supreme Court do not keep track of threat cases. Still, Huffman said threats are happening more often in a wide variety of cases. As a result, judges must be aware, now more than ever, of their surroundings wherever they go.
"We are all careful to watch when we leave the building, when we enter the building, our homes, our on-line presence. We don't discuss when we go on vacation. We don't discuss we are going to a conference so that, quite frankly, members of the public don't know where to find you," Huffman said.
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