Judicial body rakes Nance for conduct

Md. judge's behavior called inappropriate

June 30, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A judicial disciplinary panel issued a stinging public reprimand of Baltimore Circuit Judge Alfred Nance yesterday, charging that the judge acted in "inappropriate," "undignified" and "demeaning" ways toward women in his court and private chambers.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities also criticized Nance for being "rude" and "hostile" to lawyers representing the University of Maryland Medical System in a medical malpractice case.

Nance did not respond to messages left at his home and office yesterday seeking comment, and his lawyer, Alvin I. Frederick, declined to comment.

Nance agreed to accept the reprimand, the opinion says. He could have faced a public hearing in court on the charges.

"Judge Nance acknowledges that his conduct, as described in the Stipulation of Facts, was in violation of ... the Maryland Code Of Judicial Conduct," the opinion says.

Public reprimands are rare. It has been three years since the commission issued its last reprimand, officials said. A Prince George's County judge was sanctioned after being arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer in the restroom of an Annapolis mall.

Reprimands are one of a number of possible sanctions, which range from a private warning to removal from office. They serve to put the judge - and the public - on notice about intemperate conduct. Circuit judges run for re-election every 15 years.

"The Commission further intends for this Public Reprimand to serve as a warning that any further such conduct by Judge Nance may well result in charges and possible further discipline," the opinion states. It says he has taken steps to improve his conduct.

The opinion appeared in the Maryland Register, an official state publication.

Nance, 53, a former public defender who later founded his own law firm, was appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1997.

This is not the first time Nance has been cited by the commission, which is charged with enforcing the code that requires judges to act impartially and beyond reproach.

Last year, a commission inquiry into his jailing of a lawyer who left the courtroom for six minutes because his client was not there, ended with Nance's agreeing to take "corrective action," documents show.

Nance has also drawn criticism from jurors, court officials and legal experts who say his practice of asking jurors personal questions and making comments about them is offensive and inappropriate.

During one jury selection, court transcripts show, he told a single woman "to stand up and let us see [you]. ... There may be a single guy out there."

The opinion says that the commission acted on complaints filed last fall by Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and the University of Maryland Medical System. Jessamy said that in 1998 and 2000 female staff members complained about Nance's treatment of them in the courtroom and in his chambers.

In the investigation, the commission interviewed several female prosecutors, public defenders and private lawyers about Nance's behavior. The commission "found evidence that demonstrated Judge Nance has in manner, speech, action or behavior, engaged in conduct that was, or could reasonably be perceived as, inappropriate toward certain women who have appeared before him in Court or Chambers."

The report continues: "On occasion, Judge Nance was rude and undignified in his actions, treatment and/or comments." Nance's actions were "or could reasonably be perceived as, demeaning to the women and inappropriate for a member of the Maryland Judiciary."

The opinion does not specify what the inappropriate actions were, but sources close to the investigation told The Sun previously that women alleged Nance touched their faces, made comments about their appearances and displayed an explosive temper.

On the second complaint, filed by the University of Maryland Medical System, the opinion states that Nance treated lawyers representing the hospital in a "rude, angry and hostile" manner. He refused to allow the lawyers to review a public court file in his chambers three times - in violation of Maryland law.

"Judge Nance's behavior ... was rude and not in compliance with the law," the reprimand says.

The hospital also accused Nance of showing bias during a medical malpractice case in which the hospital was being sued. That issue is not addressed in the opinion.

Nance appeared before the commission April 30, the opinion says.

How, or if, the reprimand will affect his status in hearing cases is unclear. Baltimore's Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller declined to comment.

In December, Nance was temporarily barred from presiding over criminal cases because of a dispute with Jessamy over the complaint she filed. Later that same month, he was removed from hearing cases concerning the hospital because of the pending complaint.

Several courthouse sources, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders and private lawyers, said Nance had a reputation for abrasive behavior even before he was appointed to the bench.

The opinion says Nance is trying to change: "Nance has taken steps to improve his conduct and manner toward all who appear before him, and will continue in these efforts."

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