Bollinger ruling outrages female legislators -- again Women's caucus vows probe, wants meeting with Chief Judge Bell

February 07, 1997|By Michael Dresser and Joan Jacobson | Michael Dresser and Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Outraged at a Baltimore County judge's decision to erase the conviction of a man who brutally beat his estranged wife, the women's caucus of the General Assembly vowed yesterday to investigate the matter and demanded a meeting with Maryland's chief judge.

News of last Friday's decision -- made after the judge was told the man needed a clean record, among other reasons, to join a country club -- also angered local women's groups.

And Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. criticized the decision by Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr., saying it "is sending the wrong message" about the seriousness of domestic violence.

Bollinger, who had provoked the wrath of female legislators four years ago with insensitive remarks in a rape case, changed the 1995 battery conviction of Charles H. Weiner to probation before judgment, over the objections of the prosecutor.

The judge cited a desire to "remove a stigma in the way that society looks upon him." Bollinger, acknowledging that the beating was a "violent act, a terrible act," also lengthened Weiner's probation.

In response, the group representing Maryland's 56 female legislators requested a meeting "as soon as possible" with Chief Judge Robert M. Bell concerning Bollinger's conduct.

The legislators' reaction was as swift as it was vehement after The Sun reported the judge's decision yesterday. The women's caucus convened an emergency meeting immediately after the morning sessions of the House and Senate.

By yesterday afternoon they had produced a draft letter to Bell saying they intend to fully investigate Bollinger's actions.

"We are gravely concerned about this recent decision by Judge Bollinger, particularly given the fact that Judge Bollinger had previously been given a reprimand by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities for similar conduct," the draft read. The letter bore the signature of Del. Nancy K. Kopp, president of the caucus.

The reprimand arose out of a 1993 rape case. A 44-year-old man raped an 18-year-old employee who had passed out from drinking, and Bollinger criticized the state's rape law for being too tough in such instances.

Bollinger declined to discuss the most recent case yesterday, saying he was barred by the code of judicial ethics from discussing any ruling. "It's illegal," he said of any comments by him about the case.

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 trial testimony, Weiner beat his wife's head against a tile floor numerous times, injuring her head, ear and eye.

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.

Club disputes point

In arguing for the new sentence, 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 -- a point disputed by the country club president, who said the club had no rule banning those with criminal records.

Bollinger's decision to wipe out Weiner's battery conviction prompted numerous angry calls yesterday to the Women's Law Center, the National Organization for Women's Baltimore chapter and the House of Ruth.

Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, which counsels and shelters battered women, said several callers expressed "absolute outrage that this could transpire."

Justice system questioned

"Many of the people who called us are reacting to the belief that the criminal and civil justice systems are the appropriate venues for battered women to seek justice, and clearly this is another example that this is just not so," she said.

Christyne Neff, president of the Women's Law Center, said her executive board would be meeting within the next week to take a formal position on the issue.

In the meantime, she said, the law center is urging callers to file complaints against Bollinger with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

Christine Brodak, board member of the Baltimore chapter of NOW, said her organization also suggested that callers complain to the disabilities commission.

"This is a further indication of [Bollinger's] offensive and insensitive disregard for violence against women," she said.

Curran said he was sending a letter to Bollinger on behalf of the Family Violence Council, which he heads with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"We want to let him know the council considers spousal abuse a very serious crime" and that his ruling "is sending the wrong message," said Curran. He added, "Hopefully, this will never happen again."

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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