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Hearing concludes against now-suspended Baltimore judge

ANNAPOLIS — A judicial discipline hearing against a Baltimore City District Court judge currently serving a suspension for prior misconduct concluded Monday with no timeline set for deliberations.

The Court of Appeals suspended Judge Devy Patterson Russell for six months July 1 and ordered her to have a “complete emotional and behavioral assessment” as part of her sanction for misconduct that involved a “serious pattern of disrespectful and blatant disregard for the dignity of Maryland jurists.”

Russell declined to comment on the suspension Monday.

A hearing on a second set of charges began in June and concluded Monday. Attorneys for the Commission on Judicial Disabilities concluded their case after a final witness Monday morning. Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., of Brennan, McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt, did not call any witnesses.

The charges stem from a 2015 incident in which Russell is accused of attempting to manipulate an incident report to cast fellow Judge Katie O’Malley in a bad light.

Brennan told the commission in closing that investigative counsel did not prove the allegations made in the charging document and the case should be dismissed. Derek Bayne, assistant investigative counsel, argued the facts showed Russell abused her position and disrupted court operations to satisfy a personal grudge.

Baltimore City District Court Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman testified in June that Russell did not like O’Malley and the dislike was “very common knowledge.” Bayne said Russell was upset in early March 2015 because O’Malley had been assigned permanent chambers in a courthouse based on seniority.

O’Malley dealt with a belligerent victim of a domestic assault in January 2015 and during the exchange profanity was used by the victim and by O’Malley, who was repeating the woman’s words back to her.

Investigative counsel for the commission played audio of the exchange at the conclusion of their case Monday.

After O’Malley convicted the father of the victim’s child for assaulting her, the victim is heard to say, “Are you (expletive) serious right now?” O’Malley called the woman forward and asked her what she was upset about and the woman yelled at the judge.

“I just found him guilty of assaulting you and you said, ‘Are you (expletive) serious right now?” O’Malley said in response.

Waxman testified that Russell told her in January that she’d heard about an incident where O’Malley used profanity on the bench. Waxman said she listened to the audio and determined O’Malley had been repeating the citizen’s words and nothing inappropriate occurred.

In March, Waxman said she became involved again after she learned Russell had a copy of an amended incident report and was showing it to other judges and accusing O’Malley of using profanity.

Supervising bailiff Nella Altadonna testified in June that Russell spoke with her about the incident in March 2015 and after looking at a report written by a bailiff in the courtroom she questioned why the profanity was not included. Altadonna said the bailiff was summoned at Russell’s request and he amended his report to note his recollection about the language used.

Monday, the bailiff, Gerard Pleines, testified that wrote the report after conferring with Altadonna because he wanted to have his eyewitness report in case the woman accused O’Malley of acting inappropriately. He did not hear about the incident again until March, when Altadonna brought him to her office with Russell present and asked him to add details about the words exchanged between O’Malley and the victim.

Pleines said Russell did not participate in the discussion or give him any instructions.

Two days later, Pleines said he was called to Altadonna’s office again, with Waxman present, and was asked to amend his report again after hearing audio of the exchange. He said he realized he was “off” about some of the details he had added and wrote a second addendum to clarify that O’Malley did not direct profanity toward a citizen. He said Waxman helped him write the addendum but “wasn’t putting words in (his) mouth.”

Brennan stressed in his closing that Russell did not dictate what went into any amended reports, contrary to what was alleged in the charges.

“Judge Russell suggested no version of events,” Brennan said. “None.”

He also emphasized that Waxman testified she instructed judges to come to her if anything noteworthy happened in court and thanked Russell for alerting her to the incident in O’Malley’s courtroom but never followed up with Russell to confirm the outcome of her investigation.

Brennan also said Russell did not publicize the incident broadly by going to the media.

Investigative counsel contends 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.

 


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