Judiciary panel reprimands Bollinger for comments

November 18, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's judicial disciplinary panel has reprimanded Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger for comments that appeared "insensitive to women's rights" in his sentencing of a rapist in April 1993.

Because the panel found no official misconduct in the sentencing, Judge Bollinger issued a statement saying that he had been exonerated. But advocates for women's rights said the unusual reprimand should be a warning to other judges about sensitivity to women's issues.

The issue arose last year when Judge Bollinger gave Lawrence A. Gillette, a 44-year-old theater manager, probation before judgment for raping an 18-year-old employee who had passed out in his bed.

The judge called the situation "the dream of a lot of males" and in comments at the sentencing and afterward, criticized Maryland law for making sex with an intoxicated person second-degree rape.

After the judge's remarks created a public furor, Maryland's Commission on Judicial Disabilities took up the issue and studied it for more than a year. The commission, which normally operates secretly, finally issued a "private" reprimand to Judge Bollinger, who released the panel's statement himself.

Meanwhile, the commission's chairman said the panel had planned to break its usual silence and release the statement to the public.

In its two-page statement, the commission noted that under Maryland law, the sentence itself was entirely up to the judge.

"The comission did, however, find that certain comments made by Judge Bollinger, at and following the sentencing hearing . . . were so improvidently phrased as to create a general impression that he was critical of the Maryland law under which Mr. Gillette was convicted and insensitive to women's rights and the obligation of the judicial system to afford women the protection of the law by punishing men who commit sexual offenses against them," the statement said.

"An unintended and unfortunate result of Judge Bollinger's comments was a diminution of public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system," it added.

The commission also found that "a technical violation" of another canon occurred when Judge Bollinger discussed the Gillette case before the sentencing in an address to a law club.

Judge Bollinger, who did not return telephone calls, released * *TC two-paragraph statement:

"Having been exonerated by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities of any misconduct with respect to my disposition of 'The Gillette Case,' I have agreed to receive a private reprimand. . . .," he said.

"In order to enhance our citizen's confidence in the Maryland judiciary I have authorized the commission to issue a statement of clarification. I shall continue to perform my judicial duties in accordance with all the canons of judicial ethics, including Canon 3A (2), which requires that a judge decide cases without being influenced by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism."

Judge Bollinger's critics disputed his characterization of the outcome.

"No, no, no, no! Absolutely it's not an exoneration -- it's a reprimand," said Christyne L. Neff of the Women's Law Center, a nonprofit equal-rights advocacy group. "What we have here is the highest judicial review committee, the Judicial Disabilities Commission, making it clear that his comments indicate gender bias.

"No. 2, I think they've sent a very strong public message to other judges that this will not be tolerated," she added. "I can't remember any judge being reprimanded for an issue involving gender bias.

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