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Court of Appeals dismisses discipline case against Howard Co. judge

Maryland Court of Appeals. (file)

Maryland Court of Appeals. (file)

The Court of Appeals on Thursday dismissed disciplinary proceedings against a Howard County District Court judge, finding investigators for the state judicial ethics panel did not prove sanctionable conduct.

Judge Mary C. Reese challenged the Commission on Judicial Disabilities’ determination that she violated the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct when she denied a peace order in a 2015 relationship violence hearing after a brief exchange with the pro se applicant.

The Court of Appeals order concluded the commission did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Reese “lacked the competence and diligence necessary to complete her judicial responsibilities or otherwise committed sanctionable conduct.”

The Court of Appeals heard the case earlier this month. An opinion will be filed later at a later date, according to the order.

“Judge Reese and her attorneys are pleased with the order and we look forward to receiving and reading the opinion that the court indicated will follow,” said Reese’s attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, of Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore, on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary said Thursday the commission will not comment on the ruling.

The case is In the Matter of the Honorable Mary C. Reese, CJD-2.

Complaints were filed against Reese by individuals and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland for two hearings in 2014 and 2015. The commission found sanctionable conduct occurred in one case when a woman was seeking a peace order on behalf of her 17-year-old granddaughter against her ex-boyfriend, whom she alleged had assaulted her and given her a black eye.

The grandmother described the situation, and Reese asked the alleged victim if she had anything to add and if this had ever happened before. When the victim said she had not spoken with the respondent and had blocked him from her phone, Reese dismissed the case and said, “It looks to me like she’s taking care of it.”

At the disciplinary hearing, Reese explained that she was concerned about the victim but felt she could not ask any more questions in the ex parte hearing without appearing to advocate on her behalf. In a written response to the commission’s findings, she accused the panel of recommending a sanction “not for misconduct or a disability, but for her decision in one case,” and such a decision cannot constitute sanctionable conduct even if it is incorrect.

The commission, in an opinion released in December, concluded the brevity of the hearing — it lasted less than three minutes — and Reese’s sparse questioning violated judicial ethics by not being thorough, competent and diligent before rendering her decision.

Four members of the 10-person commission dissented, finding “Judge Reese’s conduct was well within the boundaries of her independent judicial discretion and consistent with the testimony of each of the persuasive character witnesses who appeared on Judge Reese’s behalf.”

Two dissenters filed a separate concurrence and dissent laying out what they viewed as shortcomings in the judicial discipline process and a lack of tools available to the commission. Graham raised questions about the process in his arguments before the Court of Appeals but the judges did not address the issue in their order.

Kendra Randall Jolivet, who represented the commission, told the court the decision to sanction Reese was about how she conducted the hearing, not her ultimate decision.

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