Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti says he was not "removed" or "ousted" as judge of the city's felony arraignment court, but transferred out of the position voluntarily to reduce his workload.
Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan said last week that Angeletti was being replaced by Judge Kenneth Lavon Johnson after the percentage of plea bargains negotiated in arraignment court in September was the lowest in nearly a decade.
"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Kaplan, who noted that he suggested the move.
Angeletti, who returned yesterday from a two-week vacation, said: "The decision to transfer the assignment was mine. It was not anybody else's. . . . I was not removed. I was not ousted."
Kaplan said today that Angeletti did make the decision to leave "and I agreed with him. He arranged for it before he left on vacation.
"It was his decision to leave and I, as the ultimate decision maker, concurred," Kaplan said.
Angeletti said that during the second week of October he talked with Johnson about handling felony arraignments. Angeletti, who supervises the felony docket in Circuit Court, said the move was prompted by his "tremendous administrative responsibilities."
"There has been no diminution of my responsibility," the judge added.
Johnson took over felony arraignments yesterday.
Plea bargains negotiated in felony arraignment court help lower the caseload in Baltimore Circuit Court, which handles about 5,000 felony cases each year. In September, 19 plea bargains were reached out of nearly 400 cases in felony arraignment court, or 4.8 percent. Kaplan has said that he wants plea bargains reached in at least 20 percent of the cases each month. Many lawyers wait to strike deals when the cases come to trial.
Angeletti said various factors contributed to the low number of pleas: The level of inexperience among some public defenders, who meet defendants for the first time in arraignment court; the growing number of defendants who are on probation for other crimes; and a judge's obligation to protect the public.
"It is my sworn duty as a judge to protect the community from dangerous people," he said. "There comes a point where the crimes are so serious that they simply cannot be pled out."
Angeletti's critics say that before he took over felony arraignments in 1988, retired Judge Edgar P. Silver presided over the court and sat with defense lawyers and prosecutors in chambers to work out pleas. With Angeletti, all discussions take place in open court.