Sensitizing Judge Bollinger et al.

July 30, 1993

Judge Thomas J. Bollinger, some of his colleagues on the Circuit Court of Baltimore County and the Maryland Bar Association's Select Committee on Gender Equality all look a little silly in the latest episode linked to his highly publicized behavior in a rape case last spring.

Judge Bollinger was roundly criticized then for his sentencing and his sentencing remarks. He sentenced the convicted man to a much less severe punishment than the state's guidelines' suggested as the minimum. He seemed to equate rape in this case with a minor property crime. And he seemed to have as much sympathy for the 44-year-old convicted man as for the teen-aged victim.

The bar group declined to ask the Commission on Judicial Disabilities for an investigation of the episode. The commission is an official state entity that, unlike the bar association's group, has the authority to recommend directly to the Court of Appeals that a judge be censured or even removed from office. The bar group's decision apparently was based on an agreement with Judge Bollinger that if he underwent rape-sensitivity training, no request for official censure would be made.

When the time came to begin the training session Wednesday, he refused. Why? Because six other judges on his circuit (the court has 15 judges total) were denied the right to go with him! The other judges' request to go strikes us as irrelevant to his case. If they need and want sensitivity training, they should get it. Maybe it will prevent them from making fools of themselves the way he did. But the issue here is Judge Bollinger, no one else.

We said from the start that Judge Bollinger's sentence and sentencing remarks should be investigated by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities -- and that its findings should be made public. We assume the commission is conducting such an investigation. Under the law it had no other choice after several people publicly complained about the judge's behavior. It goes without saying, of course, that the commission has many choices in deciding the case -- and judges, like everybody else, are innocent until found guilty.

Sensitivity training is fine. The fact that nearly half of the circuit court judges in Baltimore County have volunteered for it suggests a real need. But the best sensitivity training we know of for judges is the self-sensitizing that comes from the knowledge that a state entity with real power of punishment and the willingness to use it when necessary is looking over their shoulders.

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