Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea’s St. Paul chambers took on a festive air last week amid six dozen Valentine’s Day roses from her husband and a gift from her law clerks: a new print riffing on a viral Ruth Bader Ginsburg meme: Gildea decked out in a crown above the text “Notorious LSG.”
But the mood is not always light in state courtrooms, where security concerns — both in cyberspace and real time — are a growing concern.
Gildea is asking the Legislature for $3 million to fund a grant program for counties to seek courthouse security upgrades, and $3.5 million to hire new cybersecurity staffers and make other improvements to keep pace with a torrent of phishing attempts and attacks.
“This term our request is a security-related request and it really is designed to help us satisfy one of the first promises made in the Minnesota Constitution, which is that the government is going to keep the people secure,” Gildea said in an interview last week.
The courthouse safety proposal is modeled after a 2016 program that gave out $1 million in grants to 54 counties. That followed a study of courthouse security convened by Gildea after a 2011 shooting in the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais injured three. Gildea calls her visit to the courthouse, where she could still see a bullet hole, “one of the most impactful things that I have experienced as chief justice.”
The court system’s cybersecurity request comes after it received just $1.5 million of the $5 million sought last year. Gildea is ready to ask for the rest of that amount by underscoring that the branch encounters more than 300,000 cases of malicious activity each month. Last month, nearly one-fifth of all reported e-mail phishing attempts needed additional attention from cyber security staff.
Gildea worries about the implication of a breach to any one of the more than 20 public-facing applications — from web tools for conservators and interpreters — that the judicial branch manages.
“There’s physical security, and then there’s personal security and the judicial branch is entrusted with all kinds of really important data, data that needs to be kept confidential,” said Gildea.
There’s one other matter on Gildea’s radar this year that will reshape the court for years to come: the July 31 retirement of Justice David Lillehaug and Gov. Tim Walz’s first appointment to the state’s high court. Walz began taking applications last week and will close the process on March 20.
She called Lillehauga “wonderful colleague” whose departure will further change the court in ways she said she didn’t fully appreciate when she first joined it.
“There are only seven of us and when there’s a new one, the whole court changes,” Gildea said. “It gives us an opportunity to think again about why is it that we do things this way. … And I think that’s refreshing.”