Bollinger launches attack on critics Baltimore Co. judge will not resign post, his attorney says

February 14, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. launched a counterattack yesterday on critics who accuse him of gender bias, as his lawyer defiantly rejected calls for the judge's resignation from Baltimore County Circuit Court.

"I can tell you that he doesn't intend to resign. There's no basis to resign," said Towson attorney William F. Gately, who was retained by the judge in the controversy over his decision to void the conviction of a local pawnbroker in a 1994 wife-beating case.

Gately's statement came on the day the women's caucus of the General Assembly filed a formal complaint against the judge with the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, accusing him of a history of gender bias that "suggests the need for his removal from the bench."

The letter, which stops barely short of an outright demand for Bollinger's removal, is the first formal statement of the position of the 56-member Women Legislators of Maryland since the judge's Jan. 31 decision to change the battery conviction of an Owings Mills man to probation before judgment.

Many individual members of the women's caucus have made public calls for the judge's ouster.

Delivering Bollinger's first public reply since the controversy began, Gately lashed out at the women's caucus for releasing the letter to the commission.

'Egregious breach'

"It strikes us that there has been an egregious breach in the rules of confidentiality to Judge Bollinger's extreme detriment," said Gately, a partner in the firm of Howell Gately Whitney & Carter. "Because the judge is obligated to abide by the rules, he cannot and will not respond in the court of public opinion."

Del. Joan Cadden, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and president-elect of the caucus, disputed Gately's claim of a right to confidentiality, saying a constitutional amendment passed in the last election guaranteed that proceedings before the commission would be open.

Early this week, Bollinger rescinded his Jan. 31 decision to void Charles H. Weiner's battery conviction. He also recused himself from future cases involving sexual offenses or domestic violence.

The judge's original ruling came after Weiner's lawyer argued that his client, among other things, had been kept out of a country club because of the conviction.

Weiner's request to have his record wiped clean will be heard by another judge.

Caucus not satisfied

The reversal did little to satisfy the women's caucus, which in its letter pointed to the judge's turnaround as further evidence of his lack of fitness for the bench.

"His decision to reinstate the conviction he had only a few days earlier reduced to a probation before judgment further indicates an awareness that his original decision was clearly seen to be based upon bias rather than sound legal reasoning," said the letter, signed by Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat, president of the caucus.

Del. Mary Louise Preis, a Harford County Democrat who helped draft the letter, said it represents a balance between the caucus' desire to be fair and its need to express its "astonishment" at a continuing problem in the judiciary.

"It doesn't demand his removal, but it doesn't back off from the perception that the problem has to be corrected and that people are losing confidence," Preis said. "By his own admission he tells us that."

The caucus said Bollinger's Jan. 31 decision, which he explained was to remove a "stigma" from Weiner, is by itself sufficient cause to impose sanctions on the judge.

But the letter noted that Bollinger had received a private reprimand for comments he made in a 1993 case involving the rape of an unconscious teen-ager.

The women legislators said Bollinger's decision in the Weiner case violates the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that "a judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice."

The caucus cited a report in the case file from the Family & Children's Services agency, which runs a counseling program that Weiner was required to attend after his original conviction.

In that report, the head of the counseling program stated that Weiner was "among our most resistant and disruptive clients" and a likely repeat offender.

Bollinger "apparently chose to ignore or totally dismiss the report," the caucus said.

Investigation sought

The letter asks the commission to open an investigation of Bollinger, whose term does not expire until 2005.

After an investigation, the commission then would decide whether to recommend a sanction to the Court of Appeals.

Discipline could include a reprimand, censure or removal from the bench.

Removal is a relatively rare punishment usually reserved for cases of criminal misconduct.

Separate letter sent

In a separate letter sent yesterday to the commission, the president of the Women's Law Center of Maryland complained that Bollinger's comments during the Weiner hearing "reveal a patent insensitivity toward the seriousness of violence against women and manifest gender bias."

The letter, written by law center president Christyne L. Neff, questions Bollinger's ability to remain on the bench after disqualifying himself from hearing sexual offenses or domestic violence cases.

Also yesterday, about 50 demonstrators gathered on the cold wind-swept fountain plaza between Towson's old and new courts buildings at dusk to protest Bollinger's actions.

Rally in Towson

The rally was led by Janet Caputo, Baltimore president of the National Organization for Women, who said she organized the protest to "continue to bring attention to judges clearly partial."

"We've churned up a lot of support," she said.

One speaker, Libby Bryant, president of the Baltimore County Commission for Women, called Bollinger's original decision "appalling."

Bryant said it is "ludicrous that public pressure caused him to reverse himself."

Other speakers at the rally called for Bollinger's removal from the bench and urged solidarity among women.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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