Bill to enhance penalties for threatening court personnel becomes law
Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed HB 67, a bill that makes it a crime to threaten a justice, judicial assistant, and other court personnel with death or “serious bodily injury.”
Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a South Florida Democrat and criminal defense lawyer, filed the measure at the behest of a Broward Sheriff’s detective who was unable to charge a man suspected of making hundreds of harassing phone calls to 17th Judicial Circuit judges.
The bill, “Protection of Specified Personnel,” adds justices, judicial assistants, court clerks, and court clerk personnel — and their respective family members — to a law that protects judges, police, firefighters, and other public servants.
Another provision creates a new first-degree misdemeanor offense for harassing a law enforcement officer, state attorney, assistant state attorney, firefighter, judge, justice, judicial assistant, court clerk, clerk personnel, or an elected official, “with the intent to intimidate or coerce” them into performing or not performing their lawful duty.
The bill takes effect October 1 of this year.
Gottlieb said the incident left judicial assistants and other court personnel fearing for their safety.
“Some of them were afraid to go across the street,” to patronize a local diner, Gottlieb said.
Broward Sheriff’s Detective Joseph Kessling said the former inmate who made the harassing calls used racial, antisemitic, and misogynistic slurs, but was careful not to directly threaten violence.
“He said, ‘Your worst nightmare is back! And there’s nothing you can do to stop me,’” Kessling said.
The suspect was eventually arrested after barging into a judge’s chambers.
Kessling, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, is assigned to Broward County court facilities.
He said he was looking forward to the bill becoming law.
“I will probably be able to use it quite a bit,” he said. “Hopefully, it will send a message.”