Judge calls defendant's innocence into question Waxter eventually agrees to recuse himself after lawyers object to remarks

February 13, 1997|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Judge Thomas J. S. Waxter Jr. removed himself from the sex abuse trial of a former middle school assistant principal yesterday before even a single juror had been picked, when lawyers on both sides objected to his unusual remarks about the guilt of the defendant.

Jury selection and opening statements were scheduled to begin yesterday in the Baltimore Circuit Court trial of Charles Michael Shockney Jr., 40, who is charged with abusing two boys during baby-sitting or social situations between 1991 and 1993.

Defense attorneys Thomas A. Pavlinic and Rowe P. Stayton said that Waxter stated in chambers before the trial that he believed Shockney was guilty.

The defense filed a motion for the judge to recuse himself at that point. The judge initially declined, saying he felt his feelings would not prevent Shockney from getting a fair trial from a jury.

But when prosecutors Michael Reed and Gregory Rothwell joined in the request after Waxter's comments in court, the judge agreed to step down.

"We felt when the judge declared in chambers that he believed Mr. Shockney was guilty even before the trial, it was not complying [with] the constitutional principles of a fair trial," Pavlinic said. "That's never happened to me before in 25 years as a lawyer."

A new trial is scheduled to begin May 12 before a different judge.

Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of Baltimore Circuit Court, said it is uncommon for judges to step away from a trial for such a reason.

"Sure people have thoughts about cases, but they don't express them," Kaplan said. "It's never been brought to my attention before. I've been on the bench for a long time, and I've never heard of that kind of reason for recusal before."

Waxter, who was appointed to the city's Circuit Court in July, would not comment further.

But in court, Waxter called Shockney's innocence into question several times.

"The court does believe there has been some inappropriate conduct by Mr. Shockney with more than one young person," Waxter said before he agreed to step down. "I do not believe my knowledge or my feelings will prevent me from being able to sit on this case."

The prosecution would not comment on the recusal.

The victims were 4 and 5 when the alleged abuse occurred. Shockney, a former assistant principal at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in the 5000 block of Sinclair Lane in Baltimore, was found not guilty in December of charges he sexually abused a former foster son.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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