Last Sunday, the North Brunswick home of U.S. Federal Judge Esther Salas was the scene of a gruesome shooting which left Judge Salas’s 20-year-old son Daniel dead and her husband seriously wounded. The next day, in upstate New York, police found the body of the alleged shooter, Roy Den Hollander, who had died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
WBGO contributor Bob Hennelly who also covers the Federal civil service for the Chief Leader newspaper joined Journal host and WBGO News Director Doug Doyle.
DOYLE: Thanks for joining us Bob. Could you first give us the background on the individuals in this case and was the shooting related to Judge Salas’s work on the bench?
HENNELLY: Judge Salas’s son Daniel Anderl was a rising junior at Catholic University in Washington. Judge Salas’s husband Mark Anderl, who is still in the hospital, is a prominent defense attorney. Judge Salas was appointed by President Obama and is the first Latina appointed to the Federal bench in New Jersey. The alleged shooter, Roy Den Hollander, was a New York based lawyer who was a strident anti-feminist and was also a fierce Trump supporter who filed several legal actions against multiple news media companies and prominent journalists alleging that they were part of a conspiracy to illegally deprive Donald Trump of the Presidency. Hollander did have a case before Salas which he had to drop out of due to health issues. For years he had ranted extensively on-line about Judge Salas’s gender and her ethnicity while also impugning her credentials.
DOYLE: Bob, do we have any idea if the shooter meant to harm the judge?
HENNELLY: Doug, we really can’t know for sure. The investigation is ongoing, but we do know from what law enforcement has released about the details they know about the shooting that he came dressed to the house as a FedEx deliveryman and apparently the son and the father both answered the door. The judge was somewhere else, reportedly in the basement. That’s all we really know. We also know that the shooter has been identified as suspect in a July 11 murder of a lawyer in California where he used a similar FedEx M.O.
DOYLE: Whose job is it to protect Federal judges and aren’t violent attacks like what we saw last Sunday very rare?
HENNELLY: It is the job of the U.S. Marshals Service and while it is true that there have just been a handful of assassinations of federal judges in recent decades, there has been a dramatic spike in threats made against them. According to government data such threats went from 926 in 2015 to close to 4,500 by last year. The Marshal Service has logged a similar spike in threats made against family members yet there were fewer than 400 that prompted an actual investigation.
DOYLE: What do experts attribute that dramatic spike to?
HENNELLY: Jurists have pointed to President Trump’s frequent twitter rants that have targeted sitting federal judges who have ruled against him, his policies or were presiding in cases involving his associates like Mike Flynn and Roger Stone. In 2016, even before he became President, he maligned a Federal judge who ruled against him in one of the cases related to Trump University by saying that the judge’s Mexican heritage was a conflict of interest because of Trump’s plan to build a wall with that country. In 2017 US District Court Judge Paul Friedman warned that Trump’s unprecedented on-line personal attacks on his colleagues would have “grave consequences” and "undermine faith in the rule of law itself."
DOYLE: Thanks, as always Bob for joining us on the WBGO Journal.