Thursday, December 14, 2017

Retirement Moots Judicial Ethics Charges

The Maryland Court of Appeals dismissed as moot a judicial misconduct proceeding

WHEREAS, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, pursuant to Maryland Rule 18-407 (j) & (k), referred to this Court the case of In the Matter of the Honorable Judge Alfred Nance, Judge of the Circuit Court for Maryland for Baltimore City, Eighth Judicial Circuit, Case Nos. CJD 2015-121, CJD 2015-163 and CJD 2016-012 for expedited consideration pursuant to Maryland Rule 18-408(a), and

WHEREAS, Judge Nance having filed a Motion to Dismiss in light of his resignation from the bench, effective December 1, 2017, with his declaration that he will not seek recall as a Senior Judge, and there being no opposition filed, it is this 14th day of December, 2017,

ORDERED, by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, that the case be, and it is hereby, dismissed without a determination as to mootness.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the allegations

As chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, Nance built a reputation as a stern and demanding presence in the courtroom, one with little patience for those who waste time or arrive to court late, or are unprepared or casually dressed. His critics, however, have accused Nance of going too far and bullying both defendants and attorneys.

During a four-day hearing last month in Annapolis, [defense counsel] Brennan said the judge was simply “old-school.” He warned that disciplining Nance would deter other judges from speaking out as they see fit to maintain order.

The case centered on Nance’s courtroom encounters with Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi, whom prosecutors said Nance dismissively referred to as “lady,” “mother hen” and “child.” They said Nance once told Levi to “shut up” and threatened to throw her in jail. She filed a complaint against Nance with the commission.

Levi declined to comment Thursday.

The commission found that Nance made comments in two 2015 cases that were “undignified, condescending, and unprofessional.” The members said his “facial expressions, tone of voice and body language” were “gratuitous, insensitive, inflammatory and relentless.”

Charges stemming from two other cases were dismissed for lack of proof, the commission wrote.

State laws require judges maintain fairness and decorum and conduct themselves in a manner that promotes confidence in the courts.

Prosecutors played hours of courtroom video from Nance’s cases during last month’s hearing. They described a pattern of behavior by the judge that they said belittled those in his courtroom.

The commission found that Nance told one defendant: “If you want to play with yourself, wait until you get back to your cell.” The commission found Nance also told the man, “If your tinkle come up dirty, you will be violated.”

During the hearings, retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Murphy Jr. told the commission that judges have broad authority to maintain order. He said Nance’s remarks fell within the bounds of that authority.

Attorneys Jane McGough, Margaret Mead and Michael Lawlor spoke in support of Nance during last month’s hearings, saying the judge was strict but respectful. Lawlor told of the time Nance once gave him collar stays for his wrinkled shirt.

Nance was issued a public reprimand in 2001 by the judicial disabilities commission for behaving in an "undignified" and "demeaning" manner toward women.

At that time, four female prosecutors formally accused the judge of having an "explosive temper" and making comments about their appearance. In another instance, Nance ordered a prospective juror who was single to stand up so that everyone in court could look at her. "There may be a single guy out there," he said.

In 2004, the commission dismissed charges of misconduct brought against him.

In a case that was not brought before the commission, Scott Reid, a public defender in Baltimore, said Nance humiliated his client last summer. The defendant was charged with attempted murder and Nance refused to let the man use the bathroom as hours passed by during jury selection.

“He said, ‘Mr. Reid, I really, really have to go. I’m really having a hard time holding it,’ ” Reid said of his client. “I repeated the desire to the judge and he’s like, ‘Look, there’s nothing I can do. He’s going to have to wait.’ ”

Meanwhile, Reid said, the jurors were allowed to step out to use the bathroom.

“The man literally just released, in his clothes, at the bench,” Reid said. “There was a large puddle. He was standing in it. … It was absolutely humiliating.”

Reid finds no fault with Nance’s rulings from the bench.

“Judge Nance has a reputation for being very fair to our clients … somebody who has a sense of justice,” Reid said. “The problem that I and some of my clients have is how he treats the human beings inside the courtroom.”

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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