Judicial community devastated by judge's shooting

Judicial community devastated by judge's shooting

AUSTIN -- A loving wife, a caring mother, and a well-respected judge. It's the last person former State District Judge Jon Wisser thought would be involved in an attack. 

The local legal community is rattled after the shooting of State District Judge Julie Kocurek Friday night. Kocurek is in serious condition, but she is expected to live after the incident which happened outside her West Austin home.

"Very pleasant person. When you think of judges who might get people angry, and want to take a shot at them, she's certainly the opposite of that," said Judge Jon Wisser, a former state district court judge.

Wisser worked alongside Judge Julie Kocurek before she was elected to the bench.  

"Considered rationale, reasonable. You know you read about judges belittling people, yelling at people, calling people words -- that's not her at all. If you ask me to list judges that would make people angry with them, she would be near the bottom of the list in Travis County," Wisser added.

Travis County Administrative Judge Lora Livingston also presides over the 261st Civil District Court.

"I was devastated and in shock. It's just mind boggling to me that someone would attack her -- a dedicated public servant -- just for doing her work in this cowardly way. I'm just completely devastated by this news," said Livingston.

Initially, she worked as an assistant district attorney in Wisser's court. 

"I've been fairly close with Judge Kocurek, and an admirer of hers, for probably 25 years," Wisser said, adding that Kocurek even hosted his retirement party at her home. 

Wisser said overall, he considers the profession to be fairly safe. In his forty year career, he said he's received one threatening e-mail and one threatening letter, but has never felt unsafe on the bench. He said he doesn't carry a gun into court, but knows other judges who do. 

Texas judges have been allowed to carry guns in the courtroom for years. It's unclear how many Travis County judges do carry or how many will start after Friday's incident. 

"Most people in the criminal justice system, defendants who get upset, generally they first blame their lawyer for them ending up in prison. Secondly, they blame the assistant district attorney who prosecuted them. Sometimes they blame the witnesses who testified against them. But the judge is fairly far down the list of who they blame for whatever their problem is," Wisser said. "This thing is just certainly an anomaly."

He said that Kocurek worked several cases involving mentally ill defendants. 

"Every year she has at least 1,000 new defendants charged with felony crimes. So that's 16,000 people charged with felony crimes she's dealt with. And when you're sending people to prison, and sending people to death row, not everybody's happy with that," said Wisser.

Livingston said safety was at the top of her mind when she heard Kocurek was injured.

"My first obligation is to alert the other judges so they could be safe and take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families and loved ones ... We'll of course take additional steps to ensure everyone in the court system security," said Livingston.

Both the criminal and civil courthouses in downtown Austin have metal detectors. But Judge Livingston said security at the civil courthouse has been and is still one of her main concerns.

"For some time now, we've been trying to talk about the safety and security issues related to work at the courthouse," said Livingston. 

Wisser adds that court security is tight, and judges park in secure parking lots. He said it's extremely rare for a judge to have a private security team once they leave the courthouse. 

Just feet away from Friday night's shooting, small shards of glass are scattered in a nearby driveway. Kocurek was rushed to University Medical Center-Brackenridge, where she remains as of Saturday night.

Police have not determined if this was a targeted attack or random act of violence. 

Kocurek has handled many high-profile felony cases. Most recently, she signed off on search warrants related to the Samantha Dean murder investigation involving an Austin police officer.  He doesn't believe her role in high-profile cases had anything to do with the attack.


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