Judge says threats won’t change her connection to the community
Judge Denise Hartsfield said she doesn’t plan to cut back her jam-packed schedule of public appearances or pull her home telephone number from local directories in the wake of the arrest of an area woman who is charged with making threats against the District Court judge.
Barbara Morgan is charged with threatening to kill Hartsfield via messages left on the judge’s home phone.
“She told me I was ‘dead, dead, dead,’ that she would stab me in my face until I died, that I was a crack whore and that she was going to to make sure she killed me,” said Hartsfield.
Morgan has also been accused of making disparaging remarks about Hartsfield during phone calls to various government offices.
Morgan’s alleged angry toward the judge began after Hartsfield twice ruled against her in a custody matter. Morgan, who had been previously ordered by Hartsfield to undergo a psychological evaluation, is currently in custody after her bond was set at $50,000.
Hartsfield said the threats made her fear not just for her own safety but for that of her aging mother, whom Hartsfield cares for, and of her church family at St. Paul United Methodist, where the judge is very active.
A Winston-Salem native, Hartsfield shares a bond with the community, so much so that she is on a first name basis with many folks.
When she was first elected to the bench 10 years ago, Hartsfield vowed to remain connected to the community, as part of the vow, she continued to have her home address and phone number listed publicly. Although it is common for City Council, School Board and Board of County Commissioners members to list their home address and phone numbers, the practice is not so common among judges, who risk incurring the wrath of those who stand before them in the courtroom.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea or a bad idea, I think its up to each individual judge,” said Hartsfield, who said she had never received negative calls at home before.
Hartsfield also doesn’t plan to change the way she approaches her job or her involvement in the community.
“I’m certainly not getting ready to hide,” she said.
Hartsfield followed the example of Judge Roland Hayes when she decided to list her personal information. She won Hayes’ seat after he retired. At the time, she also replaced Hayes as the county’s only black District Court judge.
Hayes said he lists his home number so that those who elected him would have access to him at home. During the 18 years he served on the local bench, Hayes said he always felt safe in his career.
“I have never, never, never heard of this before with anybody in the years that I’ve worked,” Hayes said about the threats made by Morgan.
Since he retired, Hayes has been filling in for local judges on an emergency basis. He presided over Morgan’s bond hearing.
When Judge Camille Banks-Payne was first elected in 2008, the county got its second black District Court judge. Banks-Payne said she hasn’t had any problems with threats. She doesn’t list her phone number, not as a safety precaution, but because she says she wants to keep her professional and personal lives separate.
“It’s sobering because it does remind us all that it could happen to any one of us, just because of the nature of the work that we do,” Banks-Payne said of the threats directed at her colleague. “But I can see that our District Attorney’s office has taken a strong stance, which I think will send a strong message to anyone who is contemplating doing that in the future to not to do it because it’s going to be dealt with.”
Nationally, there have been tragic cases involving judges. In 1988, Federal Judge Richard Daronco was killed in Pelham, N.Y. by the father of a plaintiff that Daronco had ruled against. The killer then took his own life. In 2005, the mother and husband of U.S. District Judge Joan H. Leftow were shot dead in Illinois. A man who had his malpractice suit dismissed by Leftow claimed responsibility for the murders before taking his own life.