Tire-flattening judge suspended for 5 days
Posted: 12:54 pm Wed, July 21, 2010
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
Charles County Circuit Judge Robert C. Nalley has drawn a five-day suspension without pay for deflating the tire of a cleaning woman’s car that was parked in his space at the La Plata courthouse last summer.
In its one-page order Wednesday, the Court of Appeals said Nalley must complete his suspension within 30 days. The order, signed by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, noted without further comment that one high-court member — Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. — voted for the less severe penalty of a public reprimand.
The suspension followed Nalley’s acknowledgment that he violated judicial canons of integrity and avoiding impropriety when he deflated Jean Washington’s passenger-side rear tire on Aug. 10. The judge has said he is “extremely remorseful” for his act.
Nalley declined to comment on the order. He consented to the suspension without pay following a hearing before a judicial disciplinary panel that grilled the 66-year-old jurist on how such an accomplished person could have stooped to such a juvenile act.
Nalley told the Commission on Judicial Disabilities he deeply regretted his behavior and that his “failure of judgment” warranted a public reprimand, the strictest penalty the panel can issue.
But after the bruising two-hour hearing on April 28, Nalley and his attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., reached an agreement with Steven P. Lemmey, the commission’s investigative counsel, under which the judge consented to the suspension without pay. The more severe sanction requires Court of Appeals approval.
In the agreement, Nalley acknowledged “that a public reprimand was not sufficient” due in part to his admission to the commission that he had deflated someone else’s tire about 10 years ago but was never charged with that offense.
Brennan declined to comment on the agreement.
“The consent order from the Court of Appeals speaks for itself,” said Brennan, a partner at Brennan Sullivan & McKenna LLP in Greenbelt.
Lemmey also declined to comment. He had argued at the commission hearing that Nalley deserved a public reprimand “at the very minimum.”
The high court’s order ended an 11-month odyssey in which Nalley became a defendant in his own courthouse.
On Oct. 28, he pleaded guilty in Charles County Circuit Court to the misdemeanor charge of vehicle tampering. Visiting Judge Robert C. Wilcox sentenced Nalley to probation before judgment, fined him $500 and ordered him to write “a heartfelt letter of apology” to Washington, which he did.
Nalley, in the subsequent commission proceeding, acknowledged that the tire deflation violated judicial canons of integrity and avoiding impropriety. At the hearing, Nalley said he “was irritated and acted rashly” when he saw Washington’s car parked in his reserved spot. “I wanted the person who had parked there to know we did not appreciate it.”
He said he believed deflating a tire was less an abuse of his judicial power than having the car towed or insisting that police issue a citation.
Brennan had argued at the commission hearing that a public reprimand should be the maximum sanction, given Nalley’s 38 years of public service as a prosecutor and then as a judge.
“Judge Nalley is a fine jurist who made a human mistake,” Brennan told the commission.
Within days after the tire incident, Nalley resigned as Charles County Circuit Court’s administrative judge but remains on the bench. Nalley, who had been administrative judge since 1995, made no mention of the incident in his resignation letter to Bell.
Bell appointed Judge Amy J. Bragunier to the administrative post.