Judge guilty of violating traffic laws Burns gets probation before judgment, must pay fines, costs of $485

'I should know better'

He rejects plea offer so he can admit his responsibility in court

March 13, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County judge, charged with driving with a suspended license, was given probation before judgment and ordered to pay $485 in fines and court costs after pleading guilty yesterday.

Luke K. Burns Jr., the senior judge in Maryland's 5th Judicial Circuit, stood quietly with head bowed. Lloyd O. Whitehead, a district judge from Wicomico County, said he would treat Burns like anyone else who came before him on charges of driving while his license was suspended, negligent driving and failing to control speed to avoid a collision.

Burns, 63, of Westminster had a minor traffic accident Dec. 13 on rain-slicked Route 140 in Westminster. He lost control of his car while trying to turn left near Leidy Road and struck a curb and road sign.

When state police ran a routine check, Motor Vehicle Administration records showed that Burns' license was suspended Feb. 8, 1996, after he twice failed to appear in Baltimore County District Court or pay a $110 fine for a speeding ticket he received Aug. 11, 1995.

MVA records show that Burns' suspension was lifted after he paid the fine and that he received two points on his driving record for traveling 78 mph in a 50-mph zone near Reisterstown.

David B. Weisgerber, a Westminster attorney representing Burns, told the visiting judge that his client rejected a plea-bargain offer that would have placed the most serious charge, driving while suspended, on the court's inactive docket in exchange for three points on his driving record and payment of a fine. The other charges would have been dropped, Weisgerber said.

"My client said no [to the plea agreement]," said Weisgerber. "He said he needed to appear in court and admit his responsibility."

Weisgerber said Burns had been "lambasted in the press," and offered Whitehead copies of news accounts of Burns' driving difficulties, but the visiting judge, who did not know Burns, declined to read them.

"My client is very remorseful, very embarrassed to be here," Weisgerber said. "I am asking for the same compassion that he has extended to everyone else who ever stood before him on [similar charges]."

Burns then addressed Whitehead, offering an apology to the court and to the community that "my actions have let down."

"It was my failure and neglect to pay a speeding ticket," Burns said. "You know and I know that this is no excuse. From time to time, I would think about it while coming to work, but I would get into the courthouse and something would come up. I forgot about it.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions. Of all people, I should know better. I do know better."

Whitehead said he had a copy of Burns' driving record since 1972. The visiting judge drew snickers from nearly everyone in the courtroom except Burns when he said, "It's not a bad driving record. It probably looks better than mine."

Whitehead told Burns that he was granting probation before judgment because Burns had resolved the problem that caused the license suspension and because the prosecutor did not object.

Burns was placed on one year of unsupervised probation after Whitehead imposed fines and costs of $255 for driving while suspended, $120 for negligent driving and $110 for failing to control speed to avoid a collision. No points were added to his record.

When Whitehead said he considered -- but rejected -- ordering community service, Burns said, "I would not object to that, your honor."

Whitehead responded: "I am not going to require it."

Burns left the courtroom without further comment, returning to his chambers on the second floor of the courthouse annex.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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