Re­mov­ing bad judges from the bench

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

The Mary­land Com­mis­sion on Ju­di­cial Dis­abil­i­ties in­ves­ti­gates com­plaints against judges, but even if the in­de­pen­dent body de­cides an of­fense war­rants sus­pen­sion or re­moval from of­fice, it won’t hap­pen right away. Mary­land’s high­est court must weigh in af­ter a re­view of the case, which will in­clude a hear­ing in which ac­cused judges can fur­ther de­fend them­selves. It could take months.

The lengthy process is de­signed to pro­tect judges’ rights to due process, but what about the rights of those who ap­pear in their court­rooms? If a judge has been found to have com­mit­ted sanc­tion­able con­duct, should he or she re­ally con­tinue to pre­side over cases?

The Mary­land Com­mis­sion on Ju­di­cial Dis­abil­i­ties has come up with a pro­posal to keep judges off the bench that will safe­guard both the in­tegrity of the ju­di­cial process and judges’ rights to a fair dis­ci­plinary process. It would al­low the Court of Ap­peals to place a judge on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave with pay once the com­mis­sion finds that the judge’s ac­tions war­rant sus­pen­sion or re­moval from of­fice, or mem­bers de­ter­mine that a judge can’t prop­erly per­form the bench du­ties. The judge can ask for a re­con­sid­er­a­tion be­fore re­moval, and the ap­peals court would still con­duct its re­view be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal call.

The com­mis­sion has sent the pro­posal to the Mary­land Court of Ap­peals; which should ap­prove it. It is is based on Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion guide­lines that rec­om­mend tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend­ing a judge found to have com­mit­ted a “se­ri­ous crime,” de­fined as any felony or lesser crime that re­flects ad­versely on the judge’s hon­esty, trust­wor­thi­ness or fit­ness to do the job.

“Cer­tain mis­con­duct… [is] likely to cause se­ri­ous harm to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice,” the ABA states.

While the vast ma­jor­ity of judges con­duct them­selves with the ut­most in­tegrity, those who don’t must be re­moved im­me­di­ately. They hold the power to take away an in­di­vid­ual’s free­dom, and if an ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found them un­able to prop­erly ad­ju­di­cate, we should err on the side of pro­tect­ing the pub­lic and place them on paid leave un­til the con­clu­sion of the process.

The case of Dis­trict Judge Devy Pat­ter­son Rus­sell was the cat­a­lyst for the Mary­land dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion to sug­gest sus­pen­sions with pay. The dis­ci­pline com­mis­sion had rec­om­mended that Ms. Rus­sell be sus­pended for yelling at other judges and staffers, push­ing a court­house em­ployee and fail­ing to prop­erly han­dle search war­rant pa­per­work be­tween 2007 and 2015. She heard cases for seven months be­fore the Court of Ap­peals ap­proved a rec­om­mended sus­pen­sion.

Dur­ing that time, Ms. Rus­sell de­clined to is­sue a peace or­der sought by Tyrite “TJ” Hud­son, against his neigh­bor James Verombeck. The neigh­bor was later charged with mur­der in the shoot­ing death of Mr. Hud­son, 23, at his apart­ment in Glen Burnie. Sev­eral ac­tivists said the young man might still be alive had Ms. Rus­sell not been on the bench to deny the or­der.

We don’t think the cor­re­la­tion is so black and white. Other judges may have made the same de­ci­sion Ms. Rus­sell did based

Judge Devy Pat­ter­son Rus­sell, right, with her lawyer Wil­liam Bren­nan, ar­rives at the Robert C. Mur­phy Courts of Ap­peal Build­ing in An­napo­lis be­fore ap­pear­ing at a hear­ing on a pos­si­ble ethics vi­o­la­tion dur­ing her time on the Baltimore bench. While on the bench in Anne Arun­del County she de­nied a peace or­der to Tyrique Hud­son, of Glen Burnie, who was sub­se­quently mur­dered, al­legedly by the sub­ject of the or­der.

on the facts avail­able at the time, and there is no way of know­ing if a peace or­der would have spared Mr. Hud­son. But that doesn’t mean that other con­flicts could not arise in other cases. A judge found to have shown bias against rape vic­tims, for ex­am­ple, should not pre­side over sex­ual as­sault cases.

At the same time, we rec­og­nize the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence and think it’s only fair that judges not lose their liveli­hoods while await­ing a con­clu­sion to the dis­ci­plinary process. The Court of Ap­peals could, af­ter all, dis­agree with the ju­di­cial com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion.

The state could also stand to speed up the dis­ci­plinary process of judges. These cases should be con­sid­ered pri­or­i­ties for the sake of the ju­di­cial sys­tem — and jus­tice.

JOSHUA MCKER­ROW/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA

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