Panel warns judge on gay visitation case He barred father from visiting children with his lover

'I am wilted by it'

Action one of mildest judicial commission is allowed to take

March 12, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County circuit judge who barred visits between a divorced father and his children in the company of his gay lover or "anyone having homosexual tendencies" has been issued a confidential warning by the state's judicial discipline panel.

The warning, which the judge revealed, accompanies the dismissal of a complaint brought by two Baltimore women on behalf of the Lesbian Avengers, a gay rights group. They alleged to the Commission on Judicial Disabilities that Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth showed bias against homosexuals when he forbade Robert Boswell, whose former wife had custody of their elementary-school-age children, to keep the youngsters overnight or visit them in the presence of his lover or anyone else who is gay.

No similar restrictions were placed on his former wife, Kimberly Boswell of Glen Burnie, in the April 1996 order.

The commission's decision is private, as is the substance of the warning. The action is among the mildest the commission can take.

Rushworth, who said he never intended to discriminate "against anyone," has received the warning but has not read it. A commission employee delivered an envelope to his chambers Tuesday, and he took it home but "in a Freudian slip, I didn't open it," he said yesterday. "I guess I'd just like to have it [the issue] go away."

Rushworth said he understands from conversations with Steven P. Lemmey, investigative counsel for the commission, that the warning says his order was improper and that it spells out a section of state's judicial code that says judges should not show bias or prejudice based on sexual orientation. Lemmey refused to comment, citing confidentiality of the commission's work.

"I've been admonished and warned and embarrassed," Rushworth said. "I am wilted by it."

The Court of Special Appeals overturned Rushworth's ruling in October, reaffirming its view that judges may consider parental adultery and sexual orientation in making visitation orders only if there is proof that the children would be harmed.

Rushworth heard no evidence about that, the three-judge panel said, nor did the children's mother seek the limitations. Kimberly Boswell, the mother, has asked the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to hear a challenge to the intermediate appellate court's ruling.

Lisa May-Sachs, one of the women who filed the Rushworth complaint, was neither surprised nor happy with the disciplinary panel's decision.

"I think it is disappointing because it says the commission is only willing to go so far. The fact that they are going to dismiss it shows that they don't want to take a stand," she said. "It means that this judge, who displayed homophobic bias in the past, is continuing to make decisions. Is this enough to make him think first before he brings bias into the courtroom?"

Cheryl Cort, a spokeswoman for the Lesbian Avengers, said that organization is angry that the commission's action is private, because a public action would serve as a warning to judges statewide.

"The commission needs to adjust its proceedings so that behavior by judges is held up to public scrutiny. Don't these people work for the residents of Maryland?" Cort said.

Rushworth, 64, became a district judge in 1985 and was elevated to the Circuit Court in 1989. The complaint was the first against him.

Rushworth has said on several occasions that he feels children are best served visiting noncustodial parents without third parties around. That helps them bond, he has said.

Trial testimony, some from experts, indicated that the Boswells' son said he would rather not be around his father's companion and did not want to sleep at his father's home.

But he did not want his father's lover to leave and did want to visit the partner's dog.

Rushworth recused himself from the case in August 1996, after Boswell's attorney accused him of bias. He continues to hear family-law cases.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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