Judge sets back trial

Out-of-county judge sought for case after 2 recuse themselves

Witness works with courts

City social worker accused of telling boy in his care to leave

October 04, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The trial of a Baltimore social services worker accused of telling a teen-ager in his custody to leave on his own after a juvenile hearing in Howard County last fall was postponed yesterday so that court officials could request an out-of-county judge to hear the case.

With witnesses in the case against Larry D. Richardson waiting in the hallway, two Howard County Circuit Court judges recused themselves during two separate hearings. They said they either knew too much about the case or were uncomfortable hearing testimony from one of the state's witnesses - a court official whose job is closely tied to the judges.

During a trial postponement hearing yesterday - the second of the two - Judge Diane O. Leasure recused herself and said that all of the county's circuit judges were "of a similar mind." She said she would ask court officials to request a visiting judge to hear the case.

Juvenile Master Bernard A. Raum, one of the state's eight witnesses, had consulted with at least a few of the judges after allegations against Richardson came to light last fall, she said. And, as a master, Raum works at the judges' "behest," she said.

Judges traditionally sign the case rulings issued by masters, and masters are hired by the judges, according to court officials.

Leasure rescheduled the trial for Dec. 3. Richardson has asked that his case be tried by a judge instead of a jury.

A Howard County grand jury indicted Richardson, 43, of Chase in Baltimore County, on a single count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in late April. Investigators say he told a 17-year-old released into his custody in October to leave.

The teen-ager, whom prosecutors described yesterday as "needy," had been accused of a crime in Howard County even though Baltimore social services was responsible for his care.

After an emergency detention hearing Oct. 31, Raum released the boy into Richardson's custody, but the boy walked out of the courthouse by himself.

Witnesses told Raum they overheard Richardson tell the boy to "get steppin'," court officials said at the time of the indictment. The youth was picked up by police a few miles from the courthouse.

During the first hearing yesterday, Judge Dennis M. Sweeney recused himself after he was asked to step down by Richardson's lawyer, Alan Forman.

Also during that motions hearing, Forman called the teen "an acknowledged runner" who has run away dozens of times. Forman said it is questionable "whether he needed encouragement to run."

But prosecutor Catherine Hester said she expects the evidence to show that Richardson told the boy to leave because he was not prepared to find a place for him to stay.

After yesterday's court proceedings, Forman said that although Richardson still works with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, he no longer works with children. He said he believes that Richardson, who he said is recognized for his "exemplary" work, will be exonerated.

"My client has never been able to stop [the teen] from running away in the past," Forman said.

Richardson and his supervisor went out looking for the teen-ager after he left, Forman said, and reported him missing when they could not find him.

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