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Judge sues judge for $700K

One former Baltimore judge is suing another for $700,000 over a case that was decided more than seven years ago.

Kenneth Lavon Johnson alleges Clifton J. Gordy should not have heard Johnson’s lawsuit against a real estate firm in 2006 because Gordy had a longstanding grudge against Johnson.

According to Johnson, the grudge stems from his representation of Gordy’s ex-wife in the couple’s divorce proceedings before Johnson joined the bench in 1982. During the divorce action, Johnson says, he discovered Gordy was having an affair. Gordy has “harbored animosity” toward Johnson ever since, the lawsuit alleges.

“The Defendant abandoned his role as a judge and issued a fraudulent judgment against the Plaintiff solely because of ill will towards the Plaintiff,” Johnson’s complaint says.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Baltimore City Circuit Court — where both were judges — alleges judicial malpractice, abuse of process and fraud. Johnson seeks $200,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. It notes the applicable statute of limitations is 12 years.

Johnson, representing himself in the case, also filed Thursday a motion to vacate Gordy’s 2006 judgment, a motion to move the case to a venue other than Baltimore or Howard County, where Gordy lives, and a motion to seal the court record pending the case’s removal.

“It is in the interest of justice and fairness and to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment that … the civil action be sealed,” the motion states.

Johnson declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday afternoon. An associate judge from 1982 until his retirement in 2001, he said he now splits his time mostly between Atlanta and his native Mississippi.

Gordy, briefly the circuit court’s chief judge in 2006, served as an associate judge for 21 years beginning in 1985. He now works as a mediator and presides over pretrial settlement conferences. He declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday afternoon.

Johnson’s underlying lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleged a real estate firm sold his undeveloped land in Western Maryland for well below market value even as the firm knew the existence of higher land values nearby.

According to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the judgment, Johnson “repeatedly failed” to comply with defense discovery requests and, as a sanction, another judge precluded him from testifying at trial.

Ultimately, Gordy took over case. He ruled that, since Johnson was unable to present evidence due to discovery sanctions, the defense was entitled to judgment.

On appeal, Johnson argued Gordy acted “arbitrarily” and that his actions were “abusive and manifestly unreasonable.” Then-Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, writing for the panel, rejected Johnson’s arguments.

“In sum, judgment for appellees was the logical result of appellant’s inability to present evidence in support of his claim,” Barbera wrote. “Judge Gordy neither erred nor abused his discretion in granting judgment for appellees.”