Glendening reappoints 2 city judges Circuit Court records of Johnson, Byrnes had been criticized

'He's very comfortable'

Announcement comes the day after action by nominating panel

September 24, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Acting with speed, Gov. Parris N. Glendening reappointed yesterday two veteran Baltimore judges who had faced criticism about their records.

Glendening accepted the recommendations of the city's judicial trial nominating commission by reappointing Circuit Judges Kenneth Lavon Johnson and John Carroll Byrnes, just hours after the nominations were formally announced.

Johnson and Byrnes, on the bench since 1982, had strong support from lawyers and judges -- but faced questions about their conduct in cases.

The reappointments mean that both will be able to retain their seats until the fall of 1998, when they must run -- along with seven newly appointed colleagues on the city circuit bench -- for 15-year terms.

Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said the governor felt comfortable with the recommendations of the nominating commission, which came Monday, and that he saw no reason not to act quickly.

"My understanding is there was a lot of lengthy and thorough discussion" on the commission's part, Feldmann said. "He's very comfortable with their recommendations and with the reappointments."

The commission, made up of six residents and seven attorneys, meets in private and does not disclose its votes.

Byrnes said yesterday he was honored by the governor's reappointment, and "I expect to continue my service at the will of the people, if they will let me."

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Critics alleged that Johnson, 60, a former civil rights lawyer, had a record of intemperate behavior in court, resulting in inappropriate use of the power of contempt. The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities is investigating four complaints against him.

Johnson has responded in writing to those complaints, defending his overall career as honorable.

He acknowledged that he had been wrong in some cases, but said that he was trying to preserve order in his courtroom.

For example, the judge said he held the father of a murder defendant -- who exclaimed "Oh, no" when his son was convicted -- in jail overnight rather than risk the safety of jurors in the case who were leaving the courthouse.

Byrnes, 58, a former state senator, was questioned about his conduct in domestic cases.

An informal, anonymous poll the judge commissioned recently said lawyers complained that his idealism about reuniting families prolonged some cases.

The lawyers, who were questioned by a fellow attorney, also said Byrnes was polite, concerned about litigants and knowledgeable about the law.

For years, renomination of sitting circuit judges was swift and routine.

However, two years ago, Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe failed to win renomination.

Several members of the commission said they had been troubled by cases in which Bothe had been admonished by appellate courts for interrupting testimony.

Bothe said she felt wronged because she did not feel it appropriate to solicit support from lawyers practicing before her.

She said yesterday: "I'm glad they were nominated, and that my experience afforded them an opportunity I didn't have to defend myself before the commission."

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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