Bothe returns to courtroom as substitute in Baltimore Co. Longtime city judge was ousted from job by nominating panel

March 30, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

It might be just "civil fender-bender type stuff," but Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe, who was ousted from her spot on the Baltimore Circuit Court last year, is back on the bench -- in Towson.

In an arrangement that allows retired judges to work as "substitutes" around the state, earning a daily wage, she has heard three civil cases this month for Baltimore County judges who were on vacation or out for other reasons.

"Of course, it's like being a substitute teacher," said Judge Bothe, 68.

Still, in some ways, it's more enjoyable than working in the city, she said.

"Everybody is quite friendly, the judges, the court personnel, the whole atmosphere -- the tension that seems to pervade the city courthouse isn't there," she said yesterday. "The judges come around drop in, chat, it never seems to happen in the city."

Judge Bothe, who was a circuit judge for 17 years, was the first judge in memory to be essentially ousted from the city bench.

In October, two years before her obligatory retirement at 70, the Trial Court Judicial Nominating Commission for Baltimore City voted not to nominate Judge Bothe to retain her seat. The commission did not give a reason.

"My relations with the administrative judge [Joseph H. H. Kaplan] never were wonderful," she said in explaining why she thought it happened. "I think there was sort of a conspiracy to get rid of me. It's outrageous what happened to me."

Now, she doesn't have her own courtroom or chambers, so she cannot decorate her work space with her skull collection numbering in the hundreds -- some real, most "decorator" trinkets.

Retired judges, who receive an annual pension of two-thirds their $93,000 salary if they have been on the bench 16 years, earn a per-diem wage as substitutes. About 90 days of substitution duty brings them up to their preretirement salary, which they cannot exceed.

"If you earn in any government service more than the difference between your pension and your salary, you lose dollar for dollar your pension," said Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner, of the Court of Special Appeals.

Before sitting, judges must get general approval from the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Robert C. Murphy, whose office then contacts the administrative judges in the various circuit courts.

Baltimore County Administrative Judge Edward A. DeWaters, Jr. said that's what happened to him. "I was called [about Judge Bothe's availability] and I said, 'Fine, I'll be glad to have her.' "

He said he needs as many substitutes as he can get, but Judge Bothe was the first he's had in about a year.

During the week she was in Baltimore County, she handled cases unlike the high-profile criminal trials she was used to in Baltimore.

She was quick to make some observations about Baltimore County juries, noting that the ones involved in her trials were composed of better-educated, less ethnically diverse and more conservative people, compared with Baltimore City juries.

She doesn't have any more dates lined up to serve as a substitute, but would accept if asked.

"I like to judge. I certainly wouldn't have left the bench voluntarily," she said.

Pub Date: 3/30/96

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