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Morrissey bans ‘blue line’ imagery on district court judges, staff apparel

Chief judge cites appearance of bias

Having district court commissioners determine if defendants are indigent would compromise the commissioners’ ability to be neutral arbiters in cases, Chief Maryland District Court Judge John P. Morrissey told state senators Thursday. ‘We are not the prosecuting body,’ he said. ‘We are the neutral body.’(Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Chief Maryland District Court Judge John P. Morrissey has instructed court personnel and fellow judges not to wear clothing that “may be perceived as showing bias or favoritism.” (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey has told his fellow jurists and court staff not to wear any apparel that displays the “blue line” of support for law enforcement while they are on duty or on court property, saying such displays undermine the judiciary’s compelling need to avoid even the appearance of favoritism toward a cause.

“Employees of the district court wearing any clothing item or apparel which promotes or displays a logo, sticker, pin, patch, slogan, or sign which may be perceived as showing bias or favoritism to a particular group of people could undermine the district court’s mission of fair, efficient, and effective justice for all and call into question the Judiciary’s obligation to remain impartial and unbiased,” Morrissey wrote in a memo to district court judges and staff Wednesday.

“Effective immediately, while performing duties of employment and on court property, all district court employees, bailiffs, commissioners, constables, clerks, staff and judges will cease wearing any mask, clothing or apparel with a blue line through it,” Morrissey added. “We do this as professionals who have been called upon to represent the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary and to uphold our duty of presenting a neutral and unbiased image to the public.”

A Maryland Judiciary spokesperson said Thursday that no similar directive had been sent regarding the state’s 24 circuit courts.

Morrissey’s order followed a letter that Maryland’s chief public defender wrote to the Judiciary on Tuesday expressing concern that circuit or district court employees in 10 counties had recently been seen by his staff lawyers wearing masks and other apparel with the blue line imagery while on duty or on court property.

The “thin blue line” image was created by the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, which formed in response to the “Black Lives Matter” protests against police brutality, Paul B. DeWolfe stated in his letter.

“To allow these masks to be worn by courtroom staff during the hearings and trials of our clients, a large swath of them Black, denies to them the appearance that their hearing is being conducted fairly and without bias,” wrote DeWolfe, who noted last Monday’s resumption of jury trials in circuit courts amid the pandemic.

“As jury trials prepare to resume, it also suggests to potential jurors that the Judiciary favors police officers, whose credibility may be at issue” in the criminal cases, DeWolfe wrote. “Because of the divisive and political nature of the thin blue line symbolism, especially in the current political climate, we are asking that you ban all displays of the thin blue line symbol within the courtroom, by any court staff.”

The 10 counties where DeWolfe said public defenders have recently seen the blue line symbol worn by court staff are Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Kent, Montgomery, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester.

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