A Maryland judge has not been removed from office as a disciplinary measure in more than 30 years, but that could change if the Court of Appeals follows the state judicial discipline panel’s recommendation about a Baltimore judge.
The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities recommended Baltimore City Chief Judge Alfred Nance be immediately removed from the bench Wednesday for his “disrespectful and unprofessional demeanor.”
Nothing in the commission’s ruling appears to prevent Nance from continuing to hear cases until the Court of Appeals makes its decision. Baltimore City Circuit Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson did not respond to a request for comment on Nance’s status Friday.
The last judge removed by the Court of Appeals was Frederick County District Judge Stanley Y. Bennett in 1984 for forging the signature of another judge to erase a friend’s driving conviction, according to the Maryland Judiciary.
The commission recommended Montgomery County District Judge Henry J. Monahan be removed 1996 after he was charged with paying a prostitute for sex in his chambers but he retired before the Court of Appeals acted and the case was dismissed.
Nance also appears to be the only judge in recent decades recommended for removal solely for behavior on the bench. The judge faced nine counts of misconduct for his demeanor and comments made to defense counsel, witnesses, jurors and defendants in multiple cases, including a murder trial.
The commission held a multi-day hearing last month during which members viewed approximately 24 hours of trial footage, which it said in its findings “allowed a full understanding of the atmosphere created by the Respondent during the trial.”
Character witnesses described Nance as firm but fair, according to the commission’s conclusions, and his attorney described him as “old school,” but the commission said the mitigating factors presented were unpersuasive and determined removal from office was “commensurate with the gravity and unrelenting nature” of Nance’s conduct.
The record of the hearing will be sent to the Court of Appeals and Nance has 30 days to file exceptions after which the court will schedule a hearing.
Nance’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr. of Brennan McKenna Mitchell & Shay, Chtd. in Greenbelt, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Court of Appeals can follow the commission’s recommendation, impose another permitted sanction, remand the case for further proceedings or dismiss it. The court can also revoke or limit Nance’s pension under the Maryland Constitution.
The commission also recommended Nance not be “subject to recall” or allowed to serve as a senior judge. Nance has been on the bench for 20 years and will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70 in April. He was previously reprimanded by the commission in 2001 for inappropriate, undignified and demeaning behavior toward women in his courtroom including telling a female lawyer she was in for a good spanking.
‘Pattern of serious violations’
In Nance’s case, the commission concluded comments made by Nance from the bench were “undignified, discourteous, disparaging and demeaning” and demonstrated “a pattern of serious violations of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct that strike at the very heart of the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary and the public’s confidence in such integrity and impartiality.”
The allegations stemmed from four criminal cases Nance handled in 2015, most of which involved Assistant Public Defender Deborah K. Levi, who filed complaints against him. The commission determined that Nance displayed bias or prejudice toward Levi which was unwarranted.
Nance repeatedly referred to Levi as “lady,” told her he wasn’t interested or she was wasting her time when she addressed the court, restricted her ability to approach witnesses and threatened her with contempt of court during a murder trial, saying he intended to have her spend a weekend in jail “so that she can live amongst those she supposedly represents.”
Nance also cleared his throat and sighed mockingly after Levi did and at one point told her to “Shut up and listen” at a bench conference.
He questioned Levi’s competence and eventually declared a mistrial in the murder case over her objection, saying her misconduct caused the mistrial. Levi later successfully had her client’s charges dropped on double jeopardy grounds.
The commission’s findings of fact include three pages of comments to Levi, witnesses, jurors and the defendant made during the trial they found “undignified, condescending, and unprofessional.” The commission’s findings also note that Nance’s facial expressions, tone of voice and body language were insensitive and inflammatory.
In two additional cases, Nance ordered Levi’s cases assigned to another judge and yelled at her to get out of the courtroom when she and her clients were speaking in the gallery. Those charges were dismissed by the commission for lack of proof.
In the fourth case, Nance was rude and disrespectful to a defendant before him to accept a plea, according to the commission’s findings.
There are way too many jurists who are disrespectful t litigants on the federal and state court benches. Why wasn’t the same punishment and recommendation for removal meted out to the white judge who used profanity at Attorney Rickey Nelson Jones’ client about a year ago.