Appropriate Bollinger verdict Absence of proof: Judge's dubious comments, decisions not enough to justify removal.

September 14, 1997

IN JANUARY, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger expunged the conviction of Charles H. Weiner, who had beaten his estranged wife. A questionable ruling, it would have gone unnoticed if this judge had not previously roiled the waters by making callous comments about a rape victim.

Women's groups accused him of bias in the expungement case. This past week, the state's judicial disciplinary panel dismissed their complaint and issued the judge a private warning. It was an appropriate decision.

The Judicial Disabilities Commission's job was to determine whether the judge made a dubious ruling, or is prejudiced and therefore unfit. The criteria for removing a judge are, and should be, demanding. Maryland has ousted judges only for the commission of crimes, corruption, gross misconduct or clear prejudice.

A controversial decision that may offend some -- and may even be wrong -- does not justify removal; judges must be insulated from the changing winds of public sentiment.

Judge Bollinger has made insensitive remarks on domestic issues, but sufficient proof of prejudice is lacking. The biggest strike against him was his outrageous comment in a rape case involving a drunken, unconscious woman in which he seemed to make lust an excuse for violence. He was justly reprimanded.

Since then, the Weiner case is the only ammunition his critics have had, and it simply does not prove prejudice. People often ask the court to clean their records, especially if they have served a portion of their sentence, as the defendant had done. Judges often give perpetrators of all sorts of wrongs a second chance.

There was a time when we had cause to doubt the judicial disciplinary panel. It was secretive and dominated by judges. Recent reforms have changed that. The Bollinger ruling was annoyingly devoid of explanation, something the panel should provide in the future. But the ruling itself should be respected.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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