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Report: More than 200 complaints filed against judges in fiscal 2019

The Maryland commission in charge of investigating and disciplining judges recommended a suspension for one judge and issued a public reprimand to a second during fiscal year 2019, according to its annual report.

The commission opened files for 204 complaints between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, a slight decrease from the previous year’s figure of 211 and from the high of 234 in 2017. Most complaints — 164 — came from members of the public and seven came from attorneys. Investigative counsel filed five complaints on their own initiative.

Baltimore City District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell was suspended for at least six months by the Court of Appeals earlier this year, following the recommendation of the commission in November. She retired last month after being charged in a third disciplinary matter.

Prince George’s District Court Judge Joseph L. Wright received a public reprimand in September 2018 for failing to disclose a past private reprimand when he applied to the Circuit Court.

The commission dismissed five matters with warnings, which were not made public. The matters involved a judge with a combative and condescending demeanor, a judge who made an inappropriate posting on social media during an election, two judges who made demeaning comments to litigants, and a judge who made comments that could be construed as racially biased in a criminal matter, the report said.

The majority of complaints were dismissed because they were not substantiated or were not sanctionable conduct.

Charges filed against a Kent County Orphan’s Court judge in December 2018 for a drunken driving arrest remain pending. Judge Amy L. Nickerson received probation before judgment in July on one count of driving while impaired and was placed on one year of supervised probation. Nickerson was also found guilty of reckless and negligent driving.

The commission charged her but postponed a hearing. It was recently rescheduled for Dec. 5.

Court of Special Appeals Judge Michael W. Reed, chair of the commission, and investigators for the commission declined to comment on the report Tuesday.

The Court of Appeals adopted new judicial discipline rules in May that took effect July 1. The amended rules address concerns raised by judges and the commission about the options available to advise judges about their conduct when sanctions are not warranted, as well as about fairness in the discipline process.

The new preamble to the rules states that their function is to enforce standards of judicial conduct but also to assist judges “who have committed minor and perhaps unintended violations.”

 


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