Women file complaint against judge Advocacy group objects to Dudley's comments to rape victim in court

Insensitivity charged

Judicial panel on bias to review issue but has no punitive power

March 13, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A women's advocacy group has filed a complaint with a state judicial committee charging that Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley's treatment of a rape victim last fall raises questions about his competency to hear domestic violence cases.

The Women's Law Center of Maryland filed the two-page complaint with the Select Committee on Gender Equality, a 21-member committee of judges and lawyers created by the state's top judge to address issues of gender bias within the court system.

The complaint, filed late last month, stems from comments Dudley made during the November sentencing of Chester P. Walker Jr., who was convicted of raping his former girlfriend. With the victim in court, Dudley suggested that the rape might not have happened if the woman had taken action after Walker beat her one year earlier when she was pregnant with his child.

The complaint includes what it considers Dudley's objectionable comments, such as: "This case is the result of [the victim's] failure to exercise reasonable judgment with respect to her previous beating by the same defendant."

The select committee has no punitive powers and focuses on education.

Dudley, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment. In a previous interview, Dudley said he was not blaming the victim, just making an observation. The woman had taken no steps to protect herself and that enhanced "the prospect of this happening again," he said.

"I didn't say it was her fault," said Dudley, an outspoken judge known for his bursts of commentary, in a December interview. "A beating when you're pregnant is a serious, serious warning."

Susan Carol Elgin, president of the Women's Law Center, said Dudley's in-court comments showed insensitivity, ignorance about the cycle of domestic violence and bias against domestic violence victims.

Elgin's complaint points to another of Dudley's statements: "These cases always pose difficulties for the court. People frequently get themselves into a situation where these crimes never would have been committed if they exercised some reasonable sense."

"It's just really a question of his competency to hear these cases," Elgin said in an interview.

Judith Clancy, executive director of the Howard County Domestic Violence Center, said she feels that Dudley is competent to hear domestic violence cases. She said she did not think his comments were intentionally malicious and not all victims are treated badly.

"I think he believes he is helping people by making these statements in open court," Clancy said, "but I think that it not only makes the victim feel worse, but I really feel it has a chilling effect on other women who may be thinking about going to court" to seek legal relief.

The select committee plans to investigate and ask Dudley to appear before it, said Pamela White, a Baltimore attorney and the committee's chairwoman.

If, in its review, the committee decides that Dudley's conduct is egregious, it can file a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which can punish or remove judges from the bench.

Elgin said the center decided not to file a judicial disabilities complaint because it wanted Dudley to learn about the cycle of domestic violence.

"We thought maybe [the select committee] would be a better avenue for educating Judge Dudley rather than disciplining him," Elgin said.

Elgin was among those who complained to the judicial disciplinary panel about Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas Bollinger Sr. He erased the battery conviction of 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 judicial panel dismissed the complaints, but issued the judge a warning -- an action women's groups protested.

In another case, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. was accused of making insensitive remarks in sentencing a man who killed his wife -- calling the man a "noncriminal." The panel dismissed the complaints.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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