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Russell’s judicial ethics hearing concludes; no timeline for deliberations

John P. Morrissey, Chief Judge, District Court of Maryland. (The Daily Record/Maxmilian Franz)

District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey testified that Judge Devy Patterson Russell was combative and argumentative at a meeting with him. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

An ethics panel concluded a multi-day hearing for a Baltimore City District Court judge late Monday after the judge testified in her defense.

Judge Devy Patterson Russell is charged with failing to carry out her duties, displaying contempt for instructions from supervisors, unprofessional interactions with other judges and court staff and failing to cooperate with investigators during the disciplinary process. Russell is also accused of failing to properly process more than 100 search warrants dated between 2007 and 2016.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities heard five days of testimony beginning Oct. 15 and concluding Monday, according to a Maryland Judiciary spokeswoman. There is no timeline for a decision.

Russell denied allegations that she engaged in discourteous or bullying behavior with court staff and other judges and improperly processed warrants. She testified Monday that she did not create the tense atmosphere alleged by colleagues and just wants to be permitted to do her job.

Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman said “things were out of control” at Baltimore City District Court in 2015 and brought the issues between Russell and her colleagues to District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey. Waxman called Russell difficult to manage and openly hostile at times.

Morrissey said Russell was combative and argumentative in the April 2015 meeting and noted that he told her the issues could become the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

“The whole point of the meeting (was) to ask Judge Russell to try to get along with her colleagues in Baltimore city because I feared if she didn’t, exactly what is happening here would happen,” he testified last month.

Russell testified Monday she had perfectly good relationships with her colleagues from her appointment to the bench in 2006 until early 2015 when she said she agreed to be interviewed for a lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging gender-based discrimination and retaliation. The commission has not permitted testimony about any of the underlying facts and repeatedly sustained objections when witnesses spoke about it.

The lawsuit, which was settled in 2015, alleged members of the Maryland Judiciary protected a clerk accused of misconduct. Russell said she believes her willingness to testify made her a “whistleblower” and “traitor” in the eyes of some of her colleagues.

By August 2015, Russell said, she was emailing Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman and the judge in charge of the courthouse where her chambers were based at the time asking for information about why she was being taken off schedules and otherwise having her work limited.

Russell eventually sent an open letter to her colleagues alleging mistreatment. A group of judges drafted a response, which was sent to Morrissey. Russell said she sent the letter to the other judges only because she felt the situation was beginning to affect her ability to serve the public.

Russell also denied she did not properly process warrants. Issued warrants, if served, are returned to the judge with an inventory and signed by the executing officer. The judge signs and dates the return and matches it with the original signed warrant before sending the package of documents to the clerk.

Investigators alleged Russell gave a law clerk a box of unprocessed warrants and instructed her to “match them up” and not tell anyone about the assignment. The law clerk testified that, after following up with Russell multiple times about her slow progress, Russell told her to “just get rid of them.”

Russell denied giving a broad secrecy order and ordering any destruction of warrants. She said she keeps warrants that were not served that can be destroyed under the rules so it would contradict her practices to destroy them.

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