'Ko­curek' se­cu­rity bill ad­vances

Texas Se­nate panel ap­proves leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect judges in af­ter­math of 2015 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Riv­eted by state District Judge Julie Ko­curek’s rec­ol­lec­tion of “the most ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ments of my life” — the un­suc­cess­ful 2015 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in the drive­way of her West Austin home — a Texas Se­nate com­mit­tee on Mon­day quickly ap­proved leg­is­la­tion to im­prove se­cu­rity for court­houses and judges across Texas.

But it was her teenage son, Will Ko­curek — who tried to get be­tween his mom and the masked shooter — who drove the point home for the Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

“I called 911, and we got her up to the porch. I told her good­bye be­cause I thought I would never see her again. I thought she was go­ing to die,” said Will, 17. “The rea­son I sup­port this bill — I want to do ev­ery­thing I can to make sure judges and their fam­i­lies are safe so no one else has to ex­pe­ri­ence this.”

Will, who was driv­ing the night of the at­tack, had left the ve­hi­cle to re­move a bag of garbage that had been placed in front of their home se­cu­rity gate.

“A masked man in a hoodie with a gun ap­peared out of the dark­ness,” he told the com­mit-

tee, pro­vid­ing de­tails about the at­tack not pre­vi­ously known pub­licly.

“I re­al­ized he was af­ter my mom, who was in the front pas­sen­ger seat. I stood be­tween the man and the front pas­sen­ger side door so he could not get to my mom. The man then ran to the other side of the car ... and shot my mom four times through the driver’s side win­dow.”

Judge Ko­curek, sur­rounded by fam­ily mem­bers as she tes­ti­fied be­fore the com­mit­tee, said it was “lucky we all walked away from that hor­ri­ble night.”

“Dur­ing those mo­ments, I did not know whether I would live or die. I thought I was be­ing killed in front of my own son, my sis­ter and my nephew,” who also were in the ve­hi­cle.

“How­ever, one thing I knew — I knew im­me­di­ately that some­one was try­ing to kill me for sim­ply do­ing my job,” she said.

Ko­curek spent 40 days in the hospi­tal and en­dured 26 surg­eries.

“As I sat in the hospi­tal, I will ad­mit I ques­tioned why I’d cho­sen this line of work, com­ing face to face with high-risk peo­ple ev­ery day,” she said.

“I could re­tire. But then, af­ter a time passed, I re­al­ized that this was big­ger than me. I needed to re­turn to the bench to show that jus­tice would pre­vail over vi­o­lence.”

The shoot­ing in­spired an ex­am­i­na­tion of court­house se­cu­rity that iden­ti­fied sev­eral alarm­ing short­com­ings and re­sulted in Se­nate Bill 42, named the Judge Julie Ko­curek Ju­di­cial and Court­house Se­cu­rity Act, by state Sen. Ju­dith Zaf­firini, D-Laredo.

The bill would cre­ate a state di­rec­tor of se­cu­rity and emer­gency pre­pared­ness de­voted to the ju­di­cial branch and re­quire that judges and court­house em­ploy­ees re­ceive en­hanced se­cu­rity train­ing that would be paid for with a $5 in­crease to civil court fil­ing fees.

For all state and fed­eral judges and their spouses, SB 42 also would re­move home ad­dresses from pub­licly avail­able gov­ern­ment data­bases, par­tic­u­larly deed records.

Ko­curek said her ex­pe­ri­ence — tak­ing un­spec­i­fied ac­tion “to for­tify our lives and make us safer” — re­vealed a hole in the sys­tem.

”I re­ally don’t want to talk about my liv­ing sit­u­a­tion in pub­lic, but so far, we have spent about $60,000, and I ex­pect it to go over $100,000,” she said.

When the Ko­cureks took out a loan to pay for the ex­penses, they dis­cov­ered that al­though their name had been re­moved from ap­praisal district doc­u­ments, they could not take Julie Ko­curek’s name out of the deed records — a fer­tile source of in­for­ma­tion for in­ter­net search en­gines. “This bill ad­dresses that,” she said.

SB 42 also would al­low any law of­fi­cer, in­clud­ing Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety per­son­nel, to pro­vide per­sonal se­cu­rity for judges any­where in the state.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, Ko­curek said, Travis County pro­vided se­cu­rity in the county, “but when I needed to travel out­side, DPS said they had no author­ity to pro­vide se­cu­rity for judges.”

Three men have been in­dicted in re­la­tion to the shoot­ing of Ko­curek.

Ac­cord­ing to fed­eral in­dict­ments, Chimene Ony­eri of Hous­ton, Mar­cel­lus Bur­gin of Cy­press and Ra­sul Scott of Louisiana par­tic­i­pated in a wide-rang­ing fraud and rack­e­teer­ing op­er­a­tion and con­spired to kill Ko­curek be­cause she was likely to send Ony­eri back to prison for a pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion on a pre­vi­ous charge in her court, dis­rupt­ing their crim­i­nal en­ter­prise.

Af­ter unan­i­mous ap­proval from the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, SB 42 next heads to the Se­nate floor, where prompt pas­sage is ex­pected.

Iden­ti­cal leg­is­la­tion, House Bill 1487, has had a hear­ing, but no vote, in a House com­mit­tee.


Judge Julie Ko­curek and son Will tes­tify Mon­day be­fore the Texas Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee in fa­vor of a bill to im­prove se­cu­rity for judges and court­houses.

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