Juror remarks by Judge Ward ruled out of line

September 14, 1990|By M. Dion Thompson

The administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court said yesterday that a fellow judge's remarks to prospective jurors were "not an appropriate subject for jury instruction" and that he hopes the incident will not be repeated.

Joseph H.H. Kaplan, the court's administrative judge, declined to say if any action was taken in light of Judge Thomas Ward's comments.

He did say that Judge Edward J. Angeletti, who supervises the felony docket, had spoken to Judge Ward. Judge Angeletti declined to comment last night on that conversation.

"I don't like [Judge Ward's comments] to happen, and I would hope that it would not happen again, but I'm not going to go into a rage about it," said Judge Kaplan. "Obviously there are a lot of people who agree with Judge Ward's comments. If you stood out on the street, you could probably interview lawyers and the general public who agree, but it's not an appropriate subject for jury instruction."

On Wednesday, dozens of prospective jurors in a scheduled capital murder case were dismissed outright from jury service after a defense attorney in the case complained about remarks Judge Ward made to the jurors during an orientation session.

According to an affidavit filed with the Circuit Court, Judge Ward said in part: "In criminal cases, it is the job of the prosecution to convict. It is the job of the defense to get his or her client off no matter how. People will try to confuse you and get away from the case."

When asked late Wednesday about his comments to the jurors, Judge Ward said they were accurate.

"The idea is to get your client off by any legal means that's available, whether that's a postponement, judge shopping, courtroom tactics," said Judge Ward. "Are we supposed to not tell juries that?"

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Norman N. Yankellow, Baltimore district public defender, said he thinks that in addressing the jury, Judge Ward may have been trying to explain the adversarial roles of the prosecution and the defense but went too far. Mr. Yankellow said he did have some problems with Judge Ward's remarks.

"I think that he was wrong in saying that in criminal cases the defense attorneys try to confuse jurors. What defense attorneys try to do is cast doubt upon the evidence presented by the state," he said. "It is not a question of confusion. It is a question of requiring the state to meet its burden of proving that the defendant was guilty of the crime to a moral certainty and beyond a reasonable doubt."

Mr. Yankellow went on to say: "Now, if the defense can raise a reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds, then he is doing his job. ... If the judge sees that as trying to confuse the jury, then I think he's off base."

The Office of the Public Defender has no plans to start monitoring the morning orientation sessions, Mr. Yankellow said. But attorneys in the office will try to make sure judges do not make potentially prejudicial remarks in the sessions, he said.

Judge Kaplan did not know how much money the city spent on the jurors who had to be dismissed.

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