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Court of Appeals suspends judge, orders behavioral health evaluation

Judge Devy Patterson Russell suspended without pay for six months

Maryland’s highest court has suspended a Baltimore judge without pay for six months as a sanction for yelling at fellow judges and court staff, as well as for disrupting court proceedings and failing to properly process search warrants.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities recommended the suspension for Baltimore City District Judge Devy Patterson Russell in December after a multi-day hearing. The Court of Appeals, which is responsible for imposing sanctions, heard arguments in March and handed down Russell’s suspension on Friday.

In addition to the suspension, the court ordered Russell to submit to an evaluation by health care professionals for a “complete emotional and behavioral assessment” and to comply fully with the recommended treatment. The evaluating professionals will report to the commission and, ultimately, the court when Russell applies for reinstatement.

Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., of Brennan, McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt, did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Russell has been sitting in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties pending the Court of Appeals decision. The suspension took effect July 1.

Russell’s “misconduct created, over a long period of time, a pervasive, unyielding and serious pattern of disrespectful and blatant disregard for the dignity of Maryland jurists,” according to the unanimous opinion, written by Judge Clayton Greene Jr.

Other judges testified before the commission that Russell berated court clerks and was unprofessional to members of the bench.

The Court of Appeals said in a footnote that Russell had “unrelentingly exhibited a pattern of discourteous and disrespectful behavior” that “taken together … fostered a toxic environment in the District Court.”

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary declined to comment Monday.

Russell denied allegations of discourteous and bullying behavior and testified before the commission that she was not responsible for the tense atmosphere, accusing her colleagues of isolating her. Her attorney told the court at oral argument in March that Russell had a personality conflict with other judges but that it could not be construed as sanctionable conduct.

But the Court of Appeals expressed concern over Russell’s stance that she had done nothing wrong.

“Instead of admitting to her mistakes and seeking help to improve her behavior, she places blame on others and plays the role of the victim,” Greene wrote. “Respondent fails to recognize the deleterious effects that her misconduct has had on the operation of the District Court and, thus, the severity of her wrongdoings.”

Russell was charged with additional misconduct in April stemming from an incident involving another District Court judge. A hearing began June 24 and is to continue in August.

Search warrants

The commission also determined there was sufficient evidence to find Russell failed to properly process search 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.

The warrant documents in boxes marked with Russell’s name included approximately 135 executed warrants that had been returned but not processed. Russell gave the  accumulated documents to a law clerk to match originals with copies for processing, but when the clerk struggled with the task Russell told her to “just get rid of” the documents, according to the court.

The court said Russell was required to send warrant documents for processing “promptly” and “utterly failed” to do so. The court further determined Russell attempted to use a law clerk “as an instrumentality for destroying evidence of her misconduct.”

Procedural objections

The court rejected Russell’s complaints about the disciplinary process, including motions for one of the disciplinary panel members to recuse herself and a motion to suppress evidence.

Russell filed a motion to recuse Harford County District Judge Susan H. Hazlett, vice chair of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, before the start of the hearing. She argued that because Morrissey — Hazlett’s ostensible boss — was testifying, Hazlett could not be impartial.

The court determined Hazlett was able to be impartial because there was no evidence she had a particularly close friendship with Morrissey and he had no authority over her decisions in Russell’s case.

Russell also moved to suppress the boxes of search warrants removed from the courthouse because she claimed the removal violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The boxes were removed at the direction of Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman and delivered to investigators for the commission.

However, Russell had left the boxes in an unsecured and high-traffic area in the courthouse and they remained there after Russell ceased to have chambers in the building, according to the court’s opinion. Therefore, Russell had no reasonable expectation of privacy and her constitutional rights were not violated, the court found.

Russell also argued the charges should be dismissed because investigators did not bring the allegations to the attention of the governor or the Maryland Senate in early 2016, when she was reappointed and confirmed to the bench. According to the opinion, Russell “maintains that it is unfair for her to be disciplined for conduct that occurred prior to her 2016 reappointment.” The court, the opinion stated, was “unpersuaded.”

The court also rejected arguments that investigators and the commission did not follow procedural rules before filing charges.

The case is In the Matter of Judge Devy Patterson Russell, JD No. 1.

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