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Panel calls for Md. judge’s suspension for advising accused, gender bias

Maryland’s top court should suspend Charles County District Court Judge W. Louis Hennessy for nine months, require him to take ethics training and assign him a mentor for having given legal advice to two men facing assault charges and for speaking with their alleged domestic violence victims, the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities reported Tuesday.

Hennessy, who has said he plans to retire on June 30, also showed bias against women and domestic violence victims while providing the legal counsel, the commission stated in a report to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Hennessy’s actions, “by clear and convincing evidence,” violated rules of judicial conduct pertaining to preserving impartiality and fairness and avoiding bias, the commission stated.

He also improperly practiced law as a judge, lent the prestige of his judicial office and engaged in ex parte communications, the commission stated in its 77-page report.

“In the present case, Judge Hennessy’s behavior is certainly serious as he attempted to use his judicial office to benefit his friends/acquaintances, to avoid appropriate investigation by a law enforcement officer(s), to influence criminal hearings, and making ill-advised comments regarding women,” the commission stated.

“Clearly, Respondent (Hennessy) engaged in behavior that could cause members of law enforcement and the public in general to question the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the Maryland judiciary,” the commission added. “Judge Hennessy was clearly concerned more and consumed with advancing the interests of his friends and acquaintances than adhering to the standards established in the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

At his disciplinary hearing before the commission last month, Hennessy denied any wrongdoing and stated that Maryland judges receive mixed messages from the Judicial Conference and the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

“We’re hearing from the Judicial Conference, go out and get involved and do stuff in the community,” Hennessy said, according to the report.

“And then when you do it, you end up here in front of Judicial Disabilities explaining it all,” he said. “I’m not conflicted about what I did in these cases. I’m not ashamed of it. But I’m very, very conflicted about the information that we’ve been given.”

Hennessy, 67, added that “you don’t have to worry about this becoming an issue again because I’m gone … I will not be sitting on the bench anymore. I’ve already submitted my retirement papers. And I’m ready to move on.”

Hennessy’s pending retirement has been noted by the Maryland Judiciary, which has been advertising on its website for applicants to fill the coming vacancy. The application deadline is May 12.

Hennessy’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., declined to comment on the commission’s report in light of the potential for future proceedings before the Court of Appeals. Brennan is with Brennan, McKenna & Lawlor Chtd. in Greenbelt.

As a sanction for Hennessy’s behavior, the commission recommended that he be suspended for three years with all but nine months suspended provided he complete an ethics course and participate in all Maryland Judiciary trainings.

The ethics course should include training on domestic violence, avoiding requests for favors from friends, the proper use of judicial resources and preserving the prestige of the judicial office, the commission said.

Upon reinstatement to the bench, Hennessy should be assigned a mentor chosen by the Court of Appeals or the commission. Hennessy should meet with the mentor each month for two years and heed all of the mentor’s reasonable advice, the commission stated.

The Court of Appeals has not yet scheduled a hearing on the commission’s report and recommended sanction.

The commission found that Hennessy, who has been on the bench since 2005, had inappropriate telephone conversations with one of the criminal defendants in which he gave legal advice while the man was being held at the St. Mary’s County Detention and Rehabilitation Center between May 2020 and August 2020. Hennessy also had an inappropriate conversation with the alleged victim, the commission stated.

During his talks with the accused, Hennessy expressed the belief that the man was innocent. The judge also said of the alleged victim, “she’s not the first woman” to have lied to the police “nor will she be the last,” the commission found, citing what it called the routinely recorded jailhouse phone conversation of which inmates are notified of in advance.

When the defendant said the alleged victim was being ungrateful, Hennessy replied, “Women have short memories, man, you know,” the commission stated.

Hennessy spoke to the second defendant – who was also held at the St. Mary’s facility —between August 2020 and December 2020 and interviewed three people about the events leading to his arrest, securing affidavits from each, the commission stated in its report.

Nine of the commission’s 11 members participated in Hennessy’s disciplinary proceeding and report containing the panel’s findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommended sanction.

Though they agreed that Hennessy had committed sanctionable conduct, the nine participating members split on what the sanction should be, according to the report.

Six backed the ultimate recommendation, two favored Hennessy’s removal from the bench and one voted for a reprimand. The report did not disclose how each member voted.

The nine participants were Court of Special Appeals Judge Michael W. Reed, the commission’s chair; Baltimore City Circuit Judge Robert B. Kershaw, the vice chair; Prince George’s County District Court Judge Lisa Hall Johnson; attorneys Chaz R. Ball, David J. McManus Jr. and Marisa A. Trasatti; and public members Virginia L. Fogle, Andrea M. Fulton Rhodes and Sophia D. Jones.

Public members Kimberly A. Howell and Sally McLane Young Ridgely did not publicly disclose a reason for their absence.