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Judicial ethics panel votes to reprimand Prince George’s judge

A disciplinary panel voted to publicly reprimand a Prince George’s County District Court judge who failed to disclose a previous private reprimand when he applied to the circuit court.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities determined by “clear and convincing evidence” that Judge Joseph L. Wright committed misconduct in office. The panel voted 9-1 to reprimand Wright.

The decision, made publicly available Wednesday, does not indicate who voted against finding sanctionable conduct.

The majority of the commission found Wright violated the Code of Judicial Conduct’s requirement that judges “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Wright, during a hearing before the commission in August, acknowledged that he made a mistake by failing to disclose. He said he believed “private meant private” and relied on the advice of prior counsel when he decided not to mention the reprimand on his 2016 application to the local Judicial Nominating Commission.

Wright said he learned at his interview with the nominating commission that his disciplinary record, including the private reprimand from 2015, had been turned over by investigative counsel. He testified that he was not aware it would be disclosed.

“I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on anyone because if so, it would be a terrible attempt at a crime,” he said at the hearing. “If they had it, they had it.”

Derek Bayne, assistant investigative counsel for the commission, told the commission the plain language of the rules and the application Wright submitted for the judgeship should have lead a reasonable person to conclude the reprimand should be disclosed.

William C. Brennan Jr., of Brennan McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt, represented Wright at the hearing. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The case is In the Matter of Judge Joseph L. Wright, CJD 2016-148.

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