Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill has stepped down from a custody case involving a woman who took her daughter into hiding in Kentucky to avoid contact with the child's father.
Last week, Whitfillconfirmed that he has removed himself from the sealed case and turned it over to Circuit Judge Maurice W. Baldwin Jr.
"I have no comment," said Whitfill last week. "I just decided to let Judge Baldwin handle it for a while."
Now that a new judge is scheduled to hear her case, the woman says she hopes the court will see a different perspective on her plight as a mother who has tried toprotect her 5-year-old daughter by taking the child into hiding.
The woman left the area last August after Whitfill granted her ex-husband unsupervised visits with the couple's daughter. Whitfill had putthe man on probation in 1988 for fondling the man's stepdaughter, who was then 11, court records show.
Since August, the woman and child have been living in Kentucky and elsewhere, their exact location aclosely guarded secret, even from her lawyers.
About three weeks after articles about the woman appeared in The Sun and The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, Whitfill removed himself from the case.
The woman, named Mary, wants Baldwin to reconsider, among other issues, Whitfill's January order transferring custody of the 5-year-old from her to the Harford County Department of Social Services. She also wantsBaldwin to consider ordering that visits between the 5-year-old and her father be supervised by social workers in Maryland or Kentucky.
Baldwin has scheduled a hearing in the case on April 21.
The woman's lawyer, Robert P. Brophy Jr. of Bel Air, said he wasn't sure what effect a change in judges will have, and declined to comment further because the case has been sealed.
John C. Love, a Bel Air attorney representing the ex-husband, who is named Dan, said he had no comment because the case is sealed.
The Herald-Leader, which obtained some documents from the divorce-custody case, reported last month that at least one therapist working with the husband told Whitfill that unsupervised visits would not be a problem.
The woman said she is pleased at the switch in judges.
"I think I feel encouraged, although it's hard being way out here and not having all the facts," Mary said in a telephone interview. Her last name and that of her ex-husband have been withheld to protect the identity of the daughter.
Thelegal tangle began in August 1986, when Mary, six months pregnant, began divorce proceedings against Dan after her 11-year-old daughter accused Dan of sexual abuse.
In 1987, Dan was prosecuted on chargesof child abuse, a second-degree sex offense, a third-degree sex offense and assault and battery. Whitfill found Dan guilty of one count of child abuse after the man entered a plea maintaining innocence, butacknowledging the state had enough evidence to convict him.