Orioles' invitation to judges draws fire

April 05, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer Sun Staff writers Marcia Myers and Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

With a new principal owner who also happens to be a high-profile attorney, the Orioles invited dozens of judges to partake in yesterday's Opening Day festivities -- a move that drew criticism from some members of the bench.

"I'm not going because I don't think it's appropriate," Baltimore Circuit Judge David Ross said.

Other Circuit Court judges privately criticized the invitation to a pregame luncheon, saying it brushed against the bounds of the proper relationship between judges and a lawyer whose firm represents thousands of clients in cases heard in local courts.

The invitation was passed on to the Baltimore Circuit Court judges at a bench meeting about two weeks ago, several judges said.

Peter G. Angelos, who used legal fees earned in large part in local courts to buy a share of the team, defended the invitations as proper, saying, "The idea was to have representation of all kinds of state officials. The invitation was from the Baltimore Orioles. There was no attempt on my part to curry favor. I don't see it as an issue."

Asked if the invitation was appropriate, Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, said, "It's arguable."

Judge Murphy said, however, that in the end he found no problem with the invitation because the Orioles are a local cultural institution.

He said he was too busy to attend Opening Day.

Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge for the Baltimore Circuit Court, attended the luncheon and then went to the owners' box for the game. He also defended the invitation as proper, describing it as an attempt to "reinvigorate" traditions of decades ago when judges were among the dignitaries attending Opening Day. He said courts would close for the afternoon 20 years ago, but "the docket just won't allow that anymore."

Judge Kaplan said the invitation did not include tickets to the game, and he too noted it came from the team. "[Mr. Angelos] has the major interest but he's not the Orioles," he said.

Judge Kaplan said about 20 judges, including several federal judges, were at the luncheon. Judge Richard T. Rombro is hearing pretrial motions in preparation for an asbestos trial involving 2,000 plaintiffs represented by Mr. Angelos' firm. He said he saw nothing improper in the invitation, but he also said "appearances" kept him from accepting.

"There's no question in my mind that he [Angelos] would ever say anything to any judge or any judge would be influenced by going to a baseball game," Judge Rombro said. "If I didn't have a case pending, in all probability I would have gone."

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