Nearly three years after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law to safeguard the personal information of judges, New Jersey State Bar Association President Timothy F. McGoughran sat for a panel discussion Tuesday about the law’s rollout and impact on protecting the state’s Judiciary against potential threats.
McGoughran joined U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas and Christine Campbell, director of the state Office of Information Privacy, at Stockton University for a wide-ranging discussion of how the law works, which public officials can take advantage of the privacy protections and why threats against the Judiciary pose an urgent problem for society.
The Association strongly supported the privacy protections for judges at both the state and federal levels following the tragic death of Judge Salas’ son, Daniel Anderl, who was shot and killed in an attack on the judge’s home that also critically injured her husband, Mark. The statute, named Daniel’s Law in memory of Salas’ son, took effect in January following its adoption by the state Legislature in 2020.
Speaking at the panel, McGoughran said he is troubled by the public’s eroding confidence in the Judiciary and government institutions that may inspire more violence against public servants.
“As a judge and as the third branch of government, you really can’t speak up. That’s where the state bar association comes into play to defend the Judiciary and judicial independence,” McGoughran said. “If people can’t go to the government to get their issues resolved in a peaceful way, then the threads of society start to deteriorate.”
The man who attacked Judge Salas’ home in July 2020 was an attorney who reportedly believed Judge Salas was deliberately stalling his case before her court for political reasons. Prior to the shooting, he had compiled a dossier of personal information about the judge, including her home address.
“This gentleman, because of open-source information, was able to track my every move,” Judge Salas said at a roundtable. “He knew my church. He knew my husband’s office. He had a list of Daniel’s baseball games.”
Under the Daniel’s Law statute, state and federal judges – either active, formerly active or retired – along with law enforcement officers, prosecutors and their immediate family can request that the state remove certain personal information from all public-facing websites. President Joe Biden also signed a federal version of Daniel’s Law in December that prohibits federal agencies and private businesses from publicly posting the personally identifiable information of federal judges and their immediate family members, bars data brokers from purchasing or selling such information and enhances security for judges.
The two laws are not perfect, Judge Salas said, but they represent a step in the right direction toward protecting democracy and the freedom of judges to adjudicate cases fairly and without fear for their safety.
“Why we are talking about judicial security is because not only the life that was lost, but the lives that can and will be lost if we don’t treat judicial security and privacy with the respect it deserves,” Judge Salas said.
State and federal employees who are eligible under Daniel’s Law can seek redaction protections through an online portal that launched in July.
The portal, which went live in July, allows those protected under the statute to apply for redactions request. Of the 15,000 public servants eligible under the law, only 8,000 have signed up, according to Campbell, whose office oversees the redaction process. At the forum, she urged eligible individuals to register through the portal and spread word to those who are unaware of their eligibility.
“The law has its limits. It does not reach out to the Googles and Zillows and the data brokers of the world, but it’s a start,” Campbell said. “It is sad and unfortunate that this network came to be because Daniel was lost, but if we prevent one tragedy like this from happening the future, we’ve done something worthwhile.”