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Baltimore judge faces new disciplinary charges for alleged misconduct

A Baltimore judge already facing suspension for her behavior on the job has been charged with additional misconduct for allegedly attempting to manipulate an incident report to cast another judge in a bad light.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities previously found that Baltimore City District Judge Devy Patterson Russell had committed sanctionable conduct by yelling at fellow judges and court staff, disrupting court proceedings and failing to properly process search warrants.

The disciplinary panel recommended a six-month suspension in November and referred the matter to the Court of Appeals, which heard arguments last month and has not yet ruled. The court is expected to rule by Aug. 31.

At the hearing before the appeals court, Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., referenced the charges, which had not yet been made public, but was discouraged from going into detail. The new charges stem from an incident that occurred in January 2015 and involved another district court judge who is not identified in the charges, though Brennan said before the Court of Appeals that the incident involved Judge Katie O’Malley.

O’Malley was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Russell’s response is critical of the commission’s decision not to name the hearing judge or other involved parties, which she said would “obviously be brought out should this matter proceed to a public hearing.”

The commission’s charges, dated Feb. 22, were made public Wednesday after Russell’s response was received on April 3.

Investigators for the commission contend Russell committed sanctionable conduct by using her office to advance her personal interest, interfering with court business, failing to cooperate with other judges and employees, and giving a perception of impropriety.

“I have no comment on the substance of the charges other than to say Judge Russell will vigorously defend the allegations,” said Brennan, partner at Brennan, McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt.

According to the charges, the unnamed hearing judge ordered a spectator to step forward after an outburst during the criminal docket and then asked the woman to remain in the courtroom until after the docket was completed. During the exchange, the hearing judge repeated the profanity used by the woman in order to confirm her statements.

Russell later told the administrative judge that the hearing judge had used profanity when speaking to a citizen in court. Then, in March, Russell spoke with a supervising bailiff about the incident and accused the hearing judge of “swearing at a citizen,” according to the charges.

After reviewing the report from the bailiff on duty, which did not mention the judge’s use of profanity, Russell questioned why it had been left out and remained present while the bailiff was summoned and asked about the incident. The bailiff called the profanity “not pertinent,” but Russell allegedly demanded that the language be added to his report.

According to the charges, a footnote was added because, as the supervising bailiff later explained, bailiffs “feel compelled to comply” with judges’ requests and consider them “orders.” Also according to the charges, Russell delivered the amended report to the administrative judge and allegedly went to one of the courthouses and “began (waving) the amended report around the common area.”

The charges claim it was “determined that the version of events suggested by Judge Russell and included in the amended report was inaccurate.” Investigators spoke to witnesses and reviewed recordings from the courtroom.

In her response, which is redacted in parts, Russell said she heard about the profanity after the fact and informed the administrative judge per that judge’s request that “any potentially newsworthy matters” be brought to her. Russell later reviewed the incident report to ensure she had provided an accurate summary to the administrative judge and denies having asked the bailiff to file an amended report.

She also denies waving the report around and discussing it with other judges, according to the response. Russell argues the profanity incident was “widely known and discussed by many courthouse personnel.”

“The general public was never involved in this matter,” Russell’s response states. “No citizens, no parties, no witnesses, no lawyers. It was never reported in the press. Now the Commission desires to pursue this matter in a public forum. It was not sanctionable conduct.”

Russell also argues that the matter was known by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities when the previous charges were brought, but she says that separate charges are now being brought “to obtain a procedural advantage.” Russell and the relevant parties were questioned about the incident during the investigation, but Russell was repeatedly prevented from speaking about it during her hearing last year.

“Obviously the Commission believed that discussing the events of March 2015 in (the previous case) would have been to Judge Russell’s advantage,” Russell’s response claims.

Russell argues that the charges should be dismissed because of the delay and given the “rules of fundamental fairness.”

The case is In the Matter of Judge Devy Patterson Russell, CJD 2019-009.

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