Protest against judge is dismissed Panel issues warning

women's group to hold vigil today

September 10, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Maryland's judicial disciplinary panel has dismissed complaints by women's groups against Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. after investigating his ruling in a wife-beating case, but issued a warning to the Baltimore County Circuit Court judge.

The complaints were prompted by Bollinger's decision in January to erase the battery conviction of Charles H. Weiner -- a Baltimore pawnbroker who beat his estranged wife's head against the floor -- after the man said he needed a clean record to join a country club.

The decision by the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities prompted one women's group to schedule a candlelight vigil today to protest the complaint's dismissal, while the head of another group said the warning was at least an acknowledgment that Bollinger had done something inappropriate.

Yesterday, Bollinger's secretary said, "Judge Bollinger is no longer speaking with reporters."

But Bollinger's lawyer, William F. Gately, released a statement, that said, in part: "All complaints filed against him with the commission have been dismissed by the commission. No charges of any kind have been or will be brought by the commission. No reprimand or discipline has been imposed.

The Sept. 2 letter from the commission, received by two women's groups yesterday, says only that the February complaint was investigated and dismissed and does not disclose the nature of the written warning.

Bollinger and his attorney also declined to discuss them, as did the commission's investigative counsel, Steven P. Lemmey.

But in a note accompanying rules overseeing commission procedures, the rules committee of the Court of Appeals states that "a warning by the commission under this section is not a reprimand and does not constitute discipline."

If the commission had found serious charges against Bollinger, it could have held hearings and called witnesses.

In 1994, the judicial commission reprimanded Bollinger for comments he made that appeared insensitive to women's rights in the sentencing of a rapist.

The most recent investigation was prompted by Bollinger's decision Jan. 31 to change Weiner's 1995 battery conviction to probation before judgment, after Weiner said his application to a country club was rejected because of his conviction.

The decision prompted an outcry from women's rights groups and legislators. Two weeks later, Bollinger reversed himself, reinstating Weiner's conviction -- and recusing himself from cases involving sexual offenses or domestic violence.

In April, another judge rejected Weiner's second attempt to have his battery conviction eliminated, citing the "extreme aggression" of Weiner's attack on Robin Weiner, then his estranged wife.

The judge, Frederick C. Wright III, also mentioned the fact, reported in The Sun March 2, that Weiner had received probation before judgment 20 years ago for beating his first wife.

Yesterday, Bollinger's lawyer criticized the commission for telling the complainants about the warning.

"If the commission has revealed to anyone that a warning or warnings have been given to Judge Bollinger, that disclosure by the commission in my opinion constitutes a violation of confidentiality rules," said Gately.

Lemmey, the commission's counsel, declined to comment on the commission's actions or on Gately's criticism of the notice to complainants about the warnings.

Susan C. Elgin, president of the Women's Law Center, one of the complaining groups, said it was difficult to assess the commission's decision, "without knowing what the warnings were."

But she said: "It's not just a flat-out dismissal of the complaint without any substantiation. It seems what they're saying that while it may not have risen to the level of requiring disciplinary action, there was obviously something disturbing about [Bollinger's] comments."

Leaders of the women's caucus of the General Assembly, which also complained about Bollinger's ruling, said yesterday they had not received the answer to their complaint to the commission and could not comment.

But the Maryland Coalition for Judicial Responsibility announced a candlelight vigil outside the Towson courthouse at 7 p.m. today to protest the commission's decision.

"Judge Bollinger has consistently proven himself to be incapable of making sound, objective and ethical decisions particularly in cases where domestic violence is involved," said a statement from the coalition.

The coalition's statement also said the group "is deeply disappointed and concerned about the ramifications and message the Commission's dismissal is sending."

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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