Judge wipes out conviction of man who'd beaten wife Attacker says record blocked membership in local country club

February 06, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. -- reprimanded in 1994 for insensitive comments in a rape case -- has wiped out a businessman's conviction for beating his estranged wife, acting after the man said he needed a clean record, among other reasons, to join a country club.

Bollinger changed Charles H. Weiner's 1995 battery conviction to probation before judgment Friday, after a 15-minute hearing in which Weiner's lawyer cited the "stigma of a criminal record."

The ruling came over the strong objections of a prosecutor who recalled the beating that left Weiner's former wife with head, ear and eye injuries. A counselor at a domestic violence program -- where Weiner attended sessions as part of his sentence -- also objected, in a letter in the court file.

Weiner and his lawyer had asked the judge to eliminate the stigma of a record, which they said had affected Weiner in many ways -- including a rejection from Chestnut Ridge Country Club in Lutherville.

Weiner has served a 90-day sentence on work-release, paid a $500 fine and gone through counseling at a domestic violence program. He also was serving three years' probation.

The new sentence extends his unsupervised probation to five years, but will wipe his record clean if he serves without any criminal convictions.

In his ruling, Bollinger acknowledged that the beating was a "violent act, a terrible act," but concluded that keeping the battery conviction intact served no purpose to society.

"All it really does is remove a stigma in the way that society looks upon him," said Bollinger, adding that the extended probation vTC would give authorities a longer period to monitor Weiner's actions.

Yesterday, Bollinger said through his secretary that he would not comment on the ruling, referring a Sun reporter to the court record.

No previous record

Weiner's lawyer, Steven R. Freeman, noted in court that his client had no criminal record before the battery conviction. And he said the county club membership application was rejected "solely because Mr. Weiner had to admit that he has a criminal record."

Weiner told the judge that the country club's management "told me point-blank when I have this [expunged] from my record they would reconsider me."

But yesterday, the president of Chestnut Ridge said the club did not deny Weiner membership because of his conviction.

"We don't have a rule" barring membership to people with criminal records, Marc Kahn said. He also said that when Weiner applied to the country club last year, he was told his application would be considered only after he completed counseling he was undergoing.

Weiner, 50, a pawnshop owner and precious-metals dealer, was convicted on the battery charge after a December 1994 incident in which he beat Robin L. Weiner, his estranged wife at the time, in the foyer of their Owings Mills home.

According to a police report and testimony at the trial, Weiner beat his wife's head into a tile floor numerous times while shouting, "I'm going to kill you." At the time, he was under a court restraining order barring him from the home.

The beating stopped when a man who had been cutting a tree outside entered the home and pulled Weiner away from his wife.

Charles Weiner did not return a reporter's call yesterday. Freeman declined to comment.

In a motion asking for the battery conviction to be erased, Weiner's lawyer said he had "snapped" after domestic troubles, being barred from his family home by court order and finding his prize gun collection strewn about in the rain.

At Friday's hearing, Assistant State's Attorney James O'C. Gentry Jr. argued against wiping out the battery conviction because Robin Weiner "suffered a concussion and injuries to her neck, eye and ear. The left side of her face was completely distorted and she had an injury to her jaw."

State's attorney opposed

Yesterday, Gentry said, "I adamantly and vehemently opposed the modification for two reasons: one, the seriousness of injuries to the victim; and two, because of the very violence of the acts of the defendant."

Gentry said that after the hearing, Robin Weiner "was extremely upset. She couldn't understand how a criminal record could be erased simply because someone wanted to become a member of a country club."

Robin Weiner declined to comment for this article.

The elimination of the battery conviction was opposed by a counselor at a domestic violence program, where Weiner attended sessions after his conviction.

"The violence which led to Mr. Weiner's arrest was high, and we do not believe that Mr. Weiner should be able to escape responsibility for this violence," wrote the counselor, who works at the Domestic Violence Program at the Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.

The counselor also wrote that "Mr. Weiner's own conduct argues against supporting this request. Mr. Weiner was among our most resistant and disruptive clients."

Reprimand

In 1994, Bollinger received a reprimand from a state judicial disciplinary board for making "insensitive comments" during the 1993 sentencing of a man convicted of second-degree rape.

In that case -- a 44-year-old man had raped an 18-year-old employee after she passed out from drinking -- the judge criticized the state's rape law for being too tough in such instances. His comments provoked anger from advocates of sexual assault victims and women's rights groups who marched in protest.

In the aftermath, Bollinger went through a training program that promoted sensitivity toward victims of sexual assault.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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