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Orphans’ Court judge quits amid Facebook-related ethics charges

A Charles County Orphans’ Court judge quit last week amid disciplinary allegations that he misused “the prestige of judicial office” on his Facebook page by posting a profile photo of himself in his judicial robe and engaging in partisan political discussion, giving legal advice and advertising his private business on the social media site.

William J. “Bill” Dotson, who had been on the bench since 2020, left the controversial posts online and added more despite agreeing to take them down in July, the Commission on Judicial Disabilities stated in the public charges it leveled in October.

The commission withdrew its plans to hold a hearing on the allegations in light of Dotson’s resignation from the court, which handles probate matters. The charges remain posted on the commission’s website.

Dotson, who resigned without having filed a response to the commission’s charges, said Monday that he does not believe his posts were unethical or political.

“I do not think it’s fair to hold part-time orphans’ court judges to the same standards as other (full-time) judges,” added Dotson, a nonlawyer and head of an office- management company. “It is what it is.”

Dotson, a former Charles County Republican Party chair and state Senate candidate, posted comments on his Facebook page in the fall of 2021 endorsing then-President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign businesses as a way to support U.S. manufacturing, according to the commission’s charges. Dotson also “liked” like-minded comments to his posts, including one advertising an event by a partisan political group, according to the commission.

Dotson, who led protests against pandemic-related closures in Charles County before becoming judge, also posted comments in January critical of the county council for continuing to treat COVID-19 as a pandemic rather than an endemic, the commission stated.

In these posts, Dotson gave “his personal opinions on overtly political issues as well as social and cultural issues closely aligned with national and local partisan political positions,” the commission added.

Such expressions violate the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct’s prohibition on judges engaging “in any partisan political activities,” the commission states in its charges.

The commission also cited an October 2021 post in which it said Dotson criticized Maryland’s taxation policy toward non-resident sellers of real property and suggested that the tax not be paid, the commission stated.

“Judge Dotson participated in substantive discussion of the issue with commenters in the comments to the post during which he elaborated on his interpretation of the law, described how the law works in practice, and provided further advice on how to avoid paying the tax,” the commission stated.

This advice violated the code’s admonition that judges “shall not practice law” except when representing themselves or a family member without compensation, the commission stated.

Dotson said his views in support of U.S. manufacturing, opposing the tax and questioning pandemic policy were not intended to be partisan.

But “everything is political today,” Dotson said. “I was not going to give up my platform.”

The commission also took issue with Dotson’s Facebook posts advertising open positions at Modern Door, the White Plains-based company of which he is president.

Dotson also posted in support of the opening of a local business, a charity’s hiring efforts and a holiday-themed event by local stores that he planned to attend.

These advertisements violated the code’s prohibition on judges lending “the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interest of the judge or others, or allow them to do so,” the commission stated.

The panel added it had reached an agreement with Dotson that required him to remove his Facebook posts advocating political positions, providing legal advice or endorsing businesses and charities.

But Dotson kept the posts up and added another in August, expressing his views on “defunding the police,” the commission charged.

Dotson, a judicial appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan removed the August post after the commission sent him a letter stating that he he was not in compliance with the agreement.

The commission followed with its formal charges on Oct. 26 and gave Dotson 30 days to respond. Dotson resigned Nov. 30.