Hearing on judge's conduct to begin Cahill caused furor in wife-slaying trial

February 20, 1996|By ELAINE TASSY | ELAINE TASSY,SUN STAFF

A judicial disciplinary board will begin today to scrutinize Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr.'s comments in a 1994 wife-slaying case -- comments that sparked an uproar and helped open disciplinary hearings to thepublic.

The proceedings by the Judicial Disabilities Commission -- which could threaten Judge Cahill's job -- mark only the second time that a Maryland judge's conduct will be reviewed in a public hearing. The case hinges on interpretationsof comments in the sentencing of Kenneth L. Peacock, a Parkton trucker who shot his wife after finding her in bed with another man.

After accepting Mr. Peacock's guilty plea, Judge Cahill called him a "noncriminal." The judge said he could not imagine someone in the defendant's position not is suing some sort of punishment, according to court documents.

And he sentenced Mr. Peacock to 18 months in a work-release program for the slaying of Sandra Kaye Sloan Peacock.

Judge Cahill and his lawyers say the statements were twisted in meaning and reported out of context. The comments should not trigger sanctions from the commission, which oversees Maryland's judges, the lawyers add.

Almost from the moment the com-ments were reported by The Sun, they generated a storm of protest.

Thirty of the 54 female delegates and senators gathered on the State House steps to show support for his removal in 1994. Representatives from the National Organization for Women and other groups also protested, and the case drew media attention nationwide.

Now the commission will decide whether the comments were inappropriate and whether the judge showed gender bias, failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety, or failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence.

The outcome could range from a dismissal of the complaint to a recommendation that Judge Cahill be removed from the bench.

"We're just ready to start the proceedings," Christopher J. Romano, who will act as a prosecutor in the proceedings, said yesterday.

Mr. Romano became the commission's legal counsel in September. As a prosecutor in the attorney general's office for 10 years, he went after white-collar criminals, lawyers, police officers, probation officers, and others associated with the judicial system.

In July, the commission voted to pursue possible violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct against Judge Cahill. The 30-year-old commission has four judges, two attorneys and one lay person who serve as a jury.

The commission wrote that after a preliminary investigation, it found there was probable cause to believe the judge committed sanctionable conduct.

But Judge Cahill's lawyers, H. Russell Smouse of the law offices of Peter G. Angelos, and the judge's son, Robert E. Cahill Jr., of Nolan, Plumhoff & Williams, a Towson firm, claim otherwise.

A written response to the commission's charges states that nothing the judge said amounts to sanctionable conduct, and that certain sentences were given inaccurate meanings when taken out of context.

Judge Cahill's lawyers say that by "noncriminal," he was referring to Mr. Peacock as someone with no prior criminal record. They also say that the 18-month sentence proves the judge did not excuse Mr. Peacock's conduct.

The younger Mr. Cahill said he has advised his father not to comment to the media on the case. The judge did not return calls to his chambers or home.

Mr. Cahill said yesterday he expects the case to last two days at most. He expects to call as witnesses the attorneys and court reporter present during the sentencing, as well as a law professor, and possibly his father.

The commission's first public hearing, held last fall, involved Montgomery County District Judge Henry J. Monahan, who was accused of engaging a prostitute in his chambers and of refusing to clear the courtroom during a fire.

He was reprimanded for failing to evacuate the room; the complaint about the prostitute has not been resolved.

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