Judge Bothe upset by McLean trial delay

June 11, 1994|By Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers Staff writers Sandy Banisky, Michael James and Kim Clark contributed to this article

After an extraordinary meeting between several members of the Baltimore City Council and two administrative judges, Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's trial on theft and misconduct charges was postponed yesterday.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering, which the trial judge in the case described as "rotten," came just hours after Mrs. McLean was involuntary committed as a state mental patient.

"I wouldn't be yakking about it like this, but to me this is so utterly appalling," Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe said in an interview. "I hope people appreciate how wrong it is."

The comptroller was taken to a hospital emergency room in handcuffs early yesterday after threatening to commit suicide. She told her psychiatrist, "Let me be judged by God. At least he won't be biased and maybe will forgive me," according to commitment papers made available to The Sun.

Several City Council members met around noon with Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, and Joseph P. McCurdy Jr., the judge in charge of the court's criminal docket, the judges acknowledged. The meeting took place in Judge Kaplan's chambers after Mrs. McLean's commitment forced a delay in the scheduled start of her trial. Later, Mrs. McLean's lawyers got from Judge McCurdy what they had been seeking for weeks -- a postponement in the trial until at least September.

Mrs. McLean, who is on unpaid leave from her duties as comptroller, has been charged with stealing more than $25,000 in public funds and trying to arrange for a $1 million city lease of the former headquarters of her travel agency. Mrs. McLean, who attempted suicide in April, has been hospitalized for depression for nearly five months.

Judge McCurdy and Mrs. McLean's lawyer defended the meeting as proper. But other judges -- and some members of the City Council -- sharply criticized it and said it had the appearance of a political power play.

"I think it's highly inappropriate," said Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd. "These are the same people who very rightly lecture us on not talking about the comptroller, and now they go and insert themselves in the legal process. That's deplorable."

Among those at the meeting was Vera P. Hall, council vice president and the head of the Maryland Democratic Party, Judge McCurdy said. The other four council members present were: Carl Stokes, D-2nd; Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th; Sheila Dixon, D-4th; and Iris G. Reeves, D-5th.

Judge Kaplan refused to identify participants, but acknowledged that at least five council members were present at the meeting. ** Three of the five council members denied having any discussions about Mrs. McLean's emotional state or the case in general with the judges. In an apparent contradiction of Judge McCurdy's account, Councilwomen Hall, Reeves and Dixon said they had met only with the comptroller's lawyers.

Mrs. Hall said the group had gone to the courthouse to discuss some housing job classifications with the city's personnel director. On their way out, she said, they ran into William H. Murphy Jr., one of the McLean lawyers, near the courtroom.

The councilwomen began inquiring about Mrs. McLean's health, then moved into Judge Kaplan's chambers to continue talking, Mrs. Hall said.

But, Councilwoman Dixon maintained that the group of women never left the hallway.

Mrs. Hall said the three women met with Mrs. McLean's lawyers to express concern about the comptroller's suffering amid highly publicized court hearings. Mrs. Hall said she noticed a couple of judges in the hall but only briefly exchanged greetings with them. One of them was Judge Kaplan, who invited the group to use his chambers to have a private discussion with Mr. Murphy and M. Cristina Gutierrez, another McLean lawyer, she said.

"We were concerned that Jackie is being forgotten in this process," Mrs. Hall said. "What I've been saying all the time is that Jackie is by all intents and purposes a person who is in deep, deep trouble. We were concerned about what is the hurry if this woman is as fragile as it appears."

Asked why Judge Bothe commented publicly that there had been undue influence by prominent city officials, Mrs. Hall said, "I don't know what she's talking about." Told that Judge McCurdy said she had been there, Mrs. Hall declined further comment. "It's too complicated for me to say anything and to say it right."

Councilwoman Reeves denied that either Mr. Stokes or Mr. Stukes had been present during the discussion with Mrs. McLean's attorneys. Asked if she had spoken about the McLean case to any judge, Mrs. Reeves said simply, "No." When she was then told that Judge McCurdy had confirmed that such a meeting had occurred, she said, "The attorneys met with Reeves, Hall and Dixon. That's it."

Councilman Stukes did not return a page and a telephone call to his home. Councilman Stokes said, "I'm not talking."

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