Although the administrative judge for the Baltimore Circuit Court called Judge Thomas Ward's remarks "unnecessary and inappropriate," Ward says he doesn't regret comments he made about defense attorneys that led to the dismissal of potential jurors in a murder case.
"I have no apology to make for it," Ward said yesterday. "I think the jury should be told this. The job of the court system is to convict the guilty and to free the innocent. It's not some kind of pingpong game between lawyers."
"I think the jurors who come down are inexperienced with the court system and the real world . . . of lawyers battling in courtrooms," he added. "Most of their experience comes from television."
Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe dismissed about 50 potential jurors in a capital murder trial Wednesday after defense lawyers argued that Ward's remarks during an orientation session could taint a jury.
In an affidavit, a law clerk sent to observe Wednesday's jury orientation for the defense quotes Ward as saying:
"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."
The prospective jurors were dismissed from the trial of Eugene Dale, 33, who is charged in the rape and fatal shooting of a 13-year-old girl. The state is seeking the death penalty in the case.
Dale's lawyers, M. Cristina Gutierrez and Mary Jo Livingston, argued that the remarks could taint a jury because they belittled defense lawyers.
Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan yesterday called Ward's remarks "unnecessary and inappropriate."
Kaplan said Judge Edward J. Angeletti, who supervises the court's felony docket, told Ward during a meeting that some of his remarks were improper. "It has been taken care of," Kaplan said of the controversy.
Jurors on at least three other cases were either dismissed or questioned by lawyers and judges because of Ward's remarks, Kaplan said.
In the trial of a man accused of breaking and entering and a sex offense, a defense lawyer asked Judge Ellen M. Heller to question the jury about Ward's comments. The panel members said they were not tainted by the remarks.
Kaplan said Ward's comments were "better left unsaid," and added that a rotation of about 10 judges usually addresses potential jurors about the history of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.
Gutierrez sent letters to all Circuit Court judges, advising them of Ward's comments and urging that jurors addressed by him Tuesday or Wednesday morning be dismissed.
"I am asking you to notify all prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and judges who may have selected juries from these two panels so that appropriate action can be taken," the letter said.
Kaplan said judges address prospective jurors each morning as a "sort of welcoming." The jurors also view a film. But Kaplan said a new, longer film will be shown at the beginning of next year, and judges will no longer address potential jurors.
"I think it has outgrown its usefulness," Kaplan said of the practice.