IN 1994, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. sentenced a Parkton trucker to 18 months for murdering his unfaithful wife. The sentence was too light, but what made this a cause celebre were the judge's words as he handed it down.
Judge Cahill observed that not many men who found their wives with a lover would "have the strength to walk away without inflicting some corporal punishment." He appeared to accept anger as an excuse for violence -- so much so that a state judicial disciplinary board decided to investigate.
The Judicial Disabilities Commission's job was to find whether Judge Cahill rendered a bad sentence or whether he's biased against women. A hearing made it clear the former is the case. Testimony revealed that the judge takes a more lenient view of violence prompted by adultery than many of us feel is appropriate, but also that his feelings are not confined to male violence against women. The judge explained pretty convincingly that he would have rendered the same verdict had the wife been the aggressor and the husband the adulterer.
The commission's decision does not lessen the outrageousness of Judge Cahill's sentence -- though blame for that must be shared by prosecutors who allowed the defendant to plea bargain murder charges down to manslaughter. But there is a huge difference between a judge who makes a poor decision and a judge who harbors prejudices. The commission heard from many women's groups offended by Judge Cahill's statements, but from no one who hinted, much less proved, that the judge is a misogynist, unfit to remain on the bench.
Some women's advocates had promised to press the legislature to remove Judge Cahill. They should let the matter end here. Historically, Maryland has ousted judges only for serious wrongdoing -- the commission of crimes, corruption, prejudice or gross misconduct.
Judges must be insulated from the changing winds of public sentiment. Removing a judge means proving him incapable of fairly upholding the law. Such proof is lacking as far as Judge Cahill is concerned.
Pub Date: 5/08/96