City judge acquitted of leaving crash site Differing accounts lead presiding judge to clear Hammerman

October 08, 1997|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

In a case that had escaped public notice, the chief judge of Baltimore City Circuit Court has been cleared of a criminal traffic charge in Baltimore County that could have landed him in jail.

Robert I. H. Hammerman was found not guilty last month of leaving the scene of a relatively minor personal property damage accident despite testimony from two eyewitnesses and a police officer. John H. Garmer, chief administrative judge for Baltimore County Circuit Court, cleared Hammerman of the charge Sept. 22, after a 30-minute court hearing in the April incident.

"I have to be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt and I'm not so persuaded," Garmer said at the conclusion of the hearing.

After Garmer's "not guilty" pronouncement, Ronnie N. Albom, the man who said Hammerman hit his car outside a Reisterstown Road library, gave his own pronouncement on the proceedings:

"So everybody lied."

Hammerman, who acted as his own attorney, denied that his car ever touched Albom's. He acknowledged that the two exchanged words the morning of April 5.

Saying that there was no contact, no accident and no damage, Hammerman added: "I do not lie." He called Albom's testimony "preposterous" and said the case was "a vendetta by a vindictive person."

A key element in the case was the testimony of Baltimore County police Officer Ryan Cooper, who said that a day after the incident was reported, he saw damage to Hammerman's car consistent with the collision described by Albom. A few weeks later, the officer said that when he went to serve a citation on the judge, the damage had disappeared.

The entire proceeding was preserved on tape, under routine district court procedures.

According to the tape, the April 5 incident began when Albom, his wife and their 1-year-old took a Saturday trip to the Pikesville library to return books.

Albom testified that when he tried to enter the driveway to the library, he was delayed by a white car that was stopped but had its backup lights on. He said that after waiting 30 seconds for it to move, he drove around the stopped car.

He said he drove off a few moments later and while waiting to turn back onto Reisterstown Road, his car was hit by the left front side of the same white car, which turned out to be Hammerman's Lexus.

"It really was not a very hard jolt," Albom testified, adding that the cost for repairing his car's damaged bumper was only $77. He said he also saw damage to the front of Hammerman's car.

Albom said he rolled down his window and said: "Sir, you just hit our vehicle." His reply was, 'Why don't you just go ahead and bash into me,' " Albom said.

Albom said Hammerman pulled back into the driveway and that he assumed that the driver was going to pull behind his car so that they could exchange registration and insurance information. Instead, he said, the judge then pulled around his car and, after stopping at a stoplight, went off on Reisterstown Road. Albom said he wrote down the license number while the car was stopped at the light.

Albom's wife, Anita M. Redondo, backed her husband's testimony and said her husband was upset by the incident.

Hammerman testified that he stopped his car before the two vehicles could collide and that Albom then began yelling at him that what he was doing was illegal.

"We were window to window. He was very excited. I said to him, 'You're an idiot,' " the judge said.

Hammerman said he drove back into the driveway, turned around, went around Albom and exited onto Reisterstown Road after stopping for a light.

As he passed Albom's car, the judge testified, he saw that Albom had gotten out of his car. He said he heard Albom tell his wife that there was "no damage." He said that if he had wanted to leave the scene, he could have taken another exit from the library to avoid detection.

The judge said Albom never asked him for identification.

Cooper, who responded to Albom's cellular phone call to police that day, testified that he was unable to find the judge's car on the day of the accident, but did locate it the next day and saw damage consistent with the accident described by Albom.

He said he saw striping marks and scraping on the judge's car "where it would have hit" Albom's car.

He said, however, that there was no visible damage to the judge's car when he returned two weeks later to serve a citation.

Hammerman insisted under questioning that he had no repairs performed on his car during the interim.

"My car was dirty at the time [of the accident]," he said when asked to explain what the officer had described.

Asked yesterday to comment on the case, Hammerman labeled the charges "absolutely absurd and solely vindictive." He reiterated that there was no contact, no accident and said that he remained at the scene and allowed himself to be identified by his license tags.

He also said that the insurance company had denied Albom's claim and that he had turned down an offer to have the charge dropped in return for paying the $77 to repair Albom's car.

Albom has another view of the case.

"It was a case of one judge extending a courtesy to another judge," he said yesterday.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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