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'Men's rights' lawyer being investigated in attack on U.S. judge's family

A self-described "anti-feminist" lawyer found dead in the Catskills of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound is being investigated as the possible gunman in the shooting of a federal judge's family in New Jersey, officials say.

Shooting at N.J. home of Judge Esther Salas killed 20-year-old son, injured husband

Law enforcement officials are seen outside the home of U.S. federal judge Esther Salas, where her son was shot and killed and her defence attorney husband was injured, in North Brunswick, N.J., on Monday. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

A self-described "anti-feminist" lawyer found dead in the Catskills of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound is the prime suspect in the shooting of a federal judge's family in New Jersey, the FBI said Monday.

Roy Den Hollander, who received media attention including appearances on Fox News and Comedy Central for lawsuits challenging perceived infringements of "men's rights," was found dead Monday in Sullivan County, N.Y., two officials with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press.

The FBI said Den Hollander was the "primary subject in the attack" and confirmed he had been pronounced dead but provided no other details. Found among his personal effects was information about another judge, New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a state court spokesperson said.

A day earlier, a gunman posing as a FedEx delivery person went to the North Brunswick, N.J., home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, and started shooting, wounding her husband, the defence lawyer Mark Anderl, and killing her son, Daniel Anderl.

Salas was at home but in another part of the house and was unharmed, said the officials, who could not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Involved in case before judge

Den Hollander was involved in a lawsuit, filed in 2015, that was being heard by Salas involving a woman who wanted to register for the men-only military draft. In writings posted online, Den Hollander derided the judge as having traded on her Hispanic heritage to get ahead.

A package addressed to Salas was found along with Den Hollander's body, the officials said.

In a screed Den Hollander posted online, he also wrote of posing as a FedEx delivery person to speak with a young girl, the same tactic the gunman apparently used at the door to the judge's family home.

Den Hollander was best known in years past for unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of "ladies night" promotions at bars and nightclubs.

His litigation, and willingness to appear on television, earned him spots on The Colbert Report and MSNBC.

Another lawsuit argued night clubs were violating human rights by charging men hundreds of dollars for bottle service. In 2008, he unsuccessfully sued Columbia University for providing women's studies classes, saying they were "a bastion of bigotry against men."

A New York state trooper stands guard on Monday outside the Catskills, N.Y., home where attorney Roy Den Hollander, who is being investigated as the possible gunman in the shooting of the judge's family, was found dead. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Daniel Anderl, Salas's son, was set to be heading back shortly to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he was named to the Dean's List this spring.

"I was shocked last night to hear news of Daniel Anderl's tragic death Sunday evening in New Jersey. Daniel was a rising junior, enrolled for classes beginning in the next few weeks," university president John Garvey wrote on Twitter. "He turned 20 last week."

Esther Salas, seated in Newark, was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed in 2011. Prior to that, she served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Jersey, after working as an assistant public defender for several years.

Misogynistic, racist writings

In more than 2,000 pages of often misogynistic, racist writings, Den Hollander criticized Salas's life story of being abandoned by her father and raised by her poor mother as "the usual effort to blame a man and turn someone into super girl."

In another section — part of a collection posted online that resembled an early draft of a memoir — he wrote about being treated recently for cancer, and wanting to use the rest of his time to "wrap up his affairs."

Den Hollander's writings also point to a possible connection to the area where he was found dead. He described going to a family cabin in the Catskills community of Beaverkill, about 40 minutes by car from Liberty.

Den Hollander filed for bankruptcy in 2011, citing more than $120,000 in credit card debt, as well as rent and other expenses. In the filing, he estimated he made about $300 a month from his work, with the bulk of his income coming from a $724 monthly Social Security payment.

'It's just devastating'

Salas, born in California to a Cuban immigrant mother and Mexican father, spent most of her childhood in Union City, N.J.

After helping her family escape a devastating house fire, she acted as her mother's translator and advocate, foreshadowing her career in law as she argued her family's case to welfare officials, according to a 2018 magazine profile.

In the profile, Salas spoke of her son possibly following his parents into the legal profession.

"He's been arguing with us since he could talk — practising his advocacy skills," Salas told New Jersey Monthly. "I don't want to dissuade him, but I was pulling for a doctor."

This undated photo provided by the Rutgers Law School shows Salas, right, during a conference at the Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J., with appellate Judge Thomas Sumners. (Rutgers Law School/The Associated Press)

Several college friends had spent the weekend visiting Daniel for his birthday, leaving just hours before the shooting, neighbour Marion Costanza said.

"These are people that will never see their friend again. Then to think of Esther losing her only child. It's just devastating," said Costanza, a lawyer who watched Daniel grow up, and had dinner plans this coming week with his parents.

"I want the world to know what a beautiful kid this was," she said.

High-profile cases

Just last week, Salas was appointed to hear an ongoing lawsuit brought by Deutsche Bank investors who claim the company made false and misleading statements about its anti-money laundering policies and failed to monitor "high-risk" customers including convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Her highest-profile case in recent years was the financial fraud case involving husband-and-wife Real Housewives of New Jersey reality TV stars Teresa and Joe Giudice, whom Salas sentenced to prison for crimes including bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. Salas staggered their sentences so that one of them could be available to take care of their four children.

In 2017, she barred federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against an alleged gang leader charged in several Newark slayings, ruling the man's intellectual disability made him ineligible for capital punishment. Salas later sentenced the man to 45 years in prison.

Attorney General William Barr said in a statement Monday that the FBI and the U.S. Marshals will continue investigating the shooting. 

"This kind of lawless, evil action carried out against a member of the federal judiciary will not be tolerated," he said in the statement.

Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who backed Salas's nomination to the federal bench, said in a statement Sunday night that he hoped "those responsible for this horrendous act are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice."

In an emailed statement, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called the shooting "a senseless act" and said "this tragedy is our latest reminder that gun violence remains a crisis in our country and that our work to make every community safer isn't done."

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