Case for judicial disabilities panel Failure to appear: Judge Burns' disregard for hearings and driving law merits inquiry.

February 25, 1997

JUDGES ARE of the law, not above the law. They must be held to the highest standards of conduct to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the judicial system. If a judge runs afoul of the law, questions must be raised about how it will affect his decisions and performance on the bench.

Such is the case with Circuit Court Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who is reported to have twice ignored summonses to appear in court on speeding charges and is now charged with driving for nearly a year on a suspended driver's license. Further, he was able to resolve the "failure to appear" citations and the speeding charge in Baltimore County by paying a fine at the Carroll County District Court office.

The issue is not that Mr. Burns was charged with speeding, or with a later instance of negligent driving, which exposed his earlier offenses. That is a possibility for many motorists, and should not be an impediment to performance of his duties on the Circuit Court.

What is troubling is the failure to appear for scheduled court hearings twice, in what seems to be defiance of the judicial system that Mr. Burns is sworn to uphold. (Bench warrants for arrest are sometimes issued in such cases.) Driving on a suspended license for almost a year shows a further disregard for the law that cannot be dismissed as absent-minded neglect.

These complications must surely have an influence on Judge Burns' decisions regarding matters that will come before his court. Not simply traffic cases, but all manner of cases involving court summonses and flagrant regulatory disobedience.

In his 16 years as judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit (for Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties), Mr. Burns has served capably and has mostly avoided personal controversy. That is something to consider. Further details of his difficulties remain to be revealed, perhaps at a court hearing March 12 on his December single-car accident in Westminster.

In any case, this appears to be the kind of problem that the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities should investigate, to see what potential impact Mr. Burns' conduct might have on his decisions as a judge. This process allows for open airing of such concerns and explanations, holding judges accountable to the public for their actions.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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