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Judicial discipline rule amendments prompted by Judge Devy Russell

Proposed amendments to the Maryland Rules would allow the Court of Appeals to place judges on administrative leave or even suspend them without pay during disciplinary proceedings, changes prompted by the situation in Baltimore involving now-retired Judge Devy Patterson Russell.

The Court of Appeals Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure will consider the amendments at a meeting Oct. 18.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan Wilner confirmed Thursday that the changes were prompted by the series of disciplinary cases against Russell, who retired last month after being charged with a third disciplinary matter in less than two years.

Judges and attorneys who represent them did not express concern over the proposed changes.

The Maryland Circuit Judges Association, a group of current and former Maryland judges, has no objections to the amendments, according to attorney Kevin B. Collins, of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington.

Louis P. Malick, an attorney with Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore who represents judges in disciplinary matters, said more information about the options the Court of Appeals has is potentially helpful, noting that the court already has broad discretion under the current rules.

“We’ve got good judges in Maryland,” he said. “Thankfully, these cases don’t come up that often.”

Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., of Brennan, McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Russell was serving a six-month suspension ordered by the Court of Appeals as a sanction for yelling at fellow judges and court staff as well as for disrupting court proceedings and failing to properly process warrants. The court also ordered Russell 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.”

One of the recommended amendments to the rules explicitly permits the Court of Appeals to order judges to undergo evaluations, participate in programs and make a written apology to those harmed by their conduct. The proposed changes also allow the Court of Appeals to suspend a judge for a fixed or indefinite period of time, establish conditions for reinstatement and monitor compliance.

The court made its six-month suspension of Russell conditional on her compliance with ordered evaluations and treatment.

Wilner said that there was no question about the court’s ability to order what it did in Russell’s case, but said that it had never been done before.

“If they did it, they had the authority to do it, but there was no procedure for it in terms of monitoring it and what happens if there’s a violation,” he said. “It was really just filling in some detail and we thought it was a good idea.”

The proposed changes would also allow the Court of Appeals to place a judge on interim administrative leave or interim suspension while disciplinary proceedings are pending.

Judges may be placed on leave, with pay, if they have a disability or are impaired and unable to perform their duties or have committed sanctionable conduct warranting a suspension or removal while charges are already pending. Judges can be suspended, with or without pay, if they have been charged with a serious crime or if they willfully failed to take remedial action ordered by the court.

Judges can ask for reconsideration of either type of interim discipline.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities recommended Russell’s suspension in November 2018, but the Court of Appeals did not hear arguments on her exceptions to the commission’s findings until March and did not issue the opinion suspending her until July 1.

During the seven-month period between the recommendation and the suspension, Russell was not seated in Baltimore City District Court but heard cases in other districts, which Wilner said was the subject of some complaints. She drew media attention earlier this year while seated in Anne Arundel County District Court when she denied a peace order for a Glen Burnie man who was later allegedly killed by the man from whom he sought protection.

Russell was charged in a second disciplinary matter for attempting to manipulate a bailiff’s report to cast a fellow judge in a bad light while the recommended suspension was pending. In early September, the commission eventually recommended extending Russell’s suspension by three months. A third set of charges, filed in late August but not made public until Sept. 25, prompted Russell’s resignation.

In a statement provided by Brennan announcing her retirement, Russell said that she was “extremely disappointed with the commission” for “piling on” the additional charges.

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