On June 3, 2022, retired judge John Roemer was shot and killed in his Juneau County home.
As Chief Justice John Roberts recently said in an email to me, “The murder of a model judge reverberates throughout our justice system and touches us all.”
Judge Roemer is on all our minds, and it’s important to take some time to reflect on what happened and where we go from here. Although his life was well lived, it was cut far too short.
His death was anything but ordinary. I don’t claim to be able to make sense of this. I cannot. I do not have all the answers, but it is time to think about broader protections.
Our judicial and legal communities must grieve together and pull together. The judiciary is a family. Many of us have no one else to talk with except our colleagues.
The bar is also a community with common interests. We need to be each other’s friends, now more than ever.
When Judge Roemer’s wife was ailing with cancer, he chose to retire from the bench to take care of her. He was a great father. He was a leader at his church and in the community. He was known by colleagues for his sharp legal mind and his willingness to share his time and knowledge with others.
But we also know the judge appears to have been targeted by a past criminal defendant who years before had appeared in his courtroom. In other words, Judge Roemer appears to have been killed for having done his job as a judge. We don’t typically think of a judge needing to be on guard, for life. Unfortunately, we may need to rethink that.
This and similar incidents remind us that all judicial officers and officers of the court need to be vigilant and take safety and security precautions. We can’t let threats, intimidation, or violence affect our decision making on the bench. Judicial decisions are based on the law and the facts of a case, not on personal opinion or preference.
Anyone who has spent much time working in a courtroom knows emotions can run high. Everyone who comes to a courthouse, including judges, lawyers, staff, and the public, needs to feel safe and be safe.
The personal security of judges and court security need to be a top priority for the court system. It’s a priority for me, not only as Chief Justice, but as a former circuit court judge.
Judge Roemer’s tragic death serves as a vivid reminder that we all need to be vigilant and strive for security for judges, lawyers, litigants, juries, staff, and the public at large. We must and will move ahead more aware of the importance of our safety and security and the role judges play in our justice system and a civil society. We owe that to Judge Roemer.
We can’t let threats, intimidation, or violence affect our decision making on the bench.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 80 (July/August 2022).