Country club applicant finds a friend in Bollinger

February 09, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

GROUCHO MARX, meet Charles H. Weiner. Groucho once famously said, "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member." Weiner is newly famous for causing folks at the Chestnut Ridge Country Club to say, "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have Charles H. Weiner as a member."

And they're saying this despite the best efforts of Baltimore County circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger, who seems to have no problem with country clubs, but lots of problems with victimized women.

Tom, Tom, how could you do something so insensitive all over again?

The last time Bollinger got himself into so much controversy, he presided over a case in which a 44-year-old man got an 18-year-old girl so drunk that she passed out, whereupon he sexually assaulted her. And Bollinger, in open court, criticized the state's rape law for being too tough in such instances and declared that such a situation - a pretty, unconscious girl - was "any man's fantasy." He was terribly wrong.

Such revulsion and outrage resulted that Bollinger had to go through a training program on sensitivity to victims of sexual assault.

Somebody around here needs to find out if he ever completed the course. Last week, The Sun's Joan Jacobson reported Bollinger has wiped out this Charles Weiner's 1995 conviction for beating his estranged wife. He beat her so badly, pounding her head into a tile floor and shouting, "I'm going to kill you," that she suffered a concussion, distortion of the left side of her face, and injuries to her neck, eye, jaw and ear before a man heard the noise and ran into the house to pull Weiner away.

Weiner was given 90 days [on work-release, a $500 fine, and had to go through counseling at a domestic violence program. But, being a sociable sort, he wished to make of himself a more fashionable lifestyle.

So he applied for membership at Chestnut Ridge Country Club in Lutherville - and was rejected, according to his attorney, Steven R. Freeman, "solely because Mr. Weiner had to admit that he has a criminal record."

Now, imagine such snobbery. At this point, Weiner went back to Judge Bollinger. Who knows, maybe he sensed a kinship. Weiner had gone through his domestic violence program, Bollinger had gone through his sexual assault sensitivity program. They had much to talk about.

Mainly, Weiner wanted to talk about getting his conviction removed. About the "stigma of a criminal record," as attorney pTC Freeman put it. About the chance for a fresh start. And, not to be minimized, about the chance to join a swell country club whose members seemed to have a problem sitting around the pool with a jailbird.

So Bollinger came through for him.

He wiped out the wife-beating conviction, despite the judge's own acknowledgment that the beating was "a violent act, a terrible act," despite objections from the prosecutor in the case, and despite a letter from a counselor at the domestic violence program where Weiner did part of his sentence, who wrote:

"We cannot support such [sentence] modification. 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 simply by attending 30 one-and-one half hour sessions.

"We feel that if Mr. Weiner commits violent acts in the future, it would be a disservice to future victims to have his record expunged. In addition, we try to teach our clients that there is no excuse for abuse.

"Finally, Mr. Weiner's own conduct argues against supporting his request. For the first 16 weeks of the program, he was among our most resistant and disruptive clients. ... Mr. Weiner's past history also indicates that his likelihood of recidivism remains substantial."

Bollinger was apparently unmoved. "All it really does is remove a stigma in the way that society looks upon him," the judge said, entirely missing the point. There's supposed to be a stigma. Society's supposed to sneer at such a man. There's supposed to be some kind of lasting penalty for such violence, something beyond 90 days on work-release, something that says, you don't pretend nothing happened and then skip off to an afternoon at the club.

Ironically, Marc Kahn, president of Chestnut Ridge Country Club, said Weiner seems to have been misinformed. The club doesn't have any particular rule about admitting people who have criminal convictions. Maybe it never occurred to anybody that they'd need such a rule.

So, Judge Bollinger and Charles Weiner, say hello again to Groucho Marx.

It was Groucho whose young daughter was once invited to a swim club. But the daughter was turned away because she was Jewish. So Groucho sent a note to the club:

"My daughter's only half-Jewish. Can she just go into the pool up to her waist?"

Chestnut Ridge ought to open its doors to Charles Weiner, and to Judge Bollinger, while they're at it. And then they should allow them into the swimming pool, up to their waists and beyond. They should hold their heads under the water until something seeps into both of their brains, called shame.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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