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‘Marrying judge’ could face sanctions inquiry

An official with the House of Ruth Maryland plans to file a formal complaint against a Baltimore County District Court judge who married a man accused of domestic violence and his alleged victim the day of his criminal trial, allowing the victim not to testify against her husband.

Dorothy J. Lennig, director of the organization’s legal clinic, said she intends to report Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates and hears cases against state judges.

The judge refused to take Frederick Wood’s trial off his calendar for March 10 based on the defense attorney’s statement that the couple intended to marry so the victim could invoke spousal privilege. However, he did give them enough time to get a marriage license that day.

Russell performed the marriage ceremony that afternoon and the trial continued. Russell found Wood not guilty after the victim invoked her right not to testify against her spouse.

Wood had been charged with second-degree assault, and Lennig noted that extensive injuries to the victim were included in the police report from the November incident.

“The reaction is, ‘What can we do to make you safe?’” Lennig said. “Not, ‘We want to attach you even more to the victim.’”

The couple was granted the license in Baltimore County Circuit Court after having the two-day waiting period waived.

The waiver was signed by Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr., who was on the court’s rotation for such requests that day.

Cahill’s chambers issued a statement Thursday calling the request “routine” and said it was unaccompanied by any background information.

“The law does not provide for a court hearing with respect to such requests,” the statement says. “Judge Cahill authorized the waiver based on the request and desires of the parties and the authority granted under Maryland law.”

Russell has been indefinitely reassigned to chambers, meaning he cannot hear cases, by District Court Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn. Russell was out of his office Thursday afternoon and unavailable for comment.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities does not comment on whether complaints have been filed or are being investigated, Executive Secretary Gary J. Kolb said. But complaints can be filed by parties not connected to a specific case before a judge, Kolb said.

The commission’s investigative counsel also has the power to open its own inquiry “upon receiving information that a judge may have committed sanctionable conduct,” according to the rules governing the commission.

Russell postponed the trial at the request of assistant public defender Phillip Heller over prosecutor Christina Cuomo’s objections. Neither Heller nor Cuomo could be reached for comment.

Lennig and several other lawyers familiar with domestic violence criminal cases said they had never heard of another instance where a defense lawyer asked a judge to postpone a trial to obtain a marriage license.

“I would never state that for a reason because I would expect backlash from the judge,” said Allan H. Rombro, a Baltimore City criminal defense lawyer.

Steve Bailey, who as a county prosecutor led the family violence division for more than eight years, said it was “unusual” for Russell to take the request seriously.

“Had the case been postponed for another reason, the outcome might have been the same,” Bailey said. “But that doesn’t mitigate Judge Russell’s conduct.”

3 comments

  1. Must be a really slow news week in Baltimore.

  2. Were I still the Public Defender, Mr. Heller would have alot of explaining to do in order to keep his job.

  3. Does the privilege extend to acts taken prior to the marriage itself?

    There’s a pretty good equal-protection beef here for gays and lesbians, as this is a “right” of which they cannot avail themselves.