Judge O'Malley requests modification of ruling from judicial ethics panel

Lawyer's letter seeks removal of restrictions

January 23, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A lawyer for Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley has asked a judicial ethics panel to modify an opinion that has restricted her judicial role because she's married to the mayor and is the daughter of the state attorney general.

The opinion says the possible appearance of partiality makes it improper for O'Malley to preside over cases that call for city police witnesses or involve the attorney general's office, among other things.

But O'Malley's attorney, Ralph S. Tyler, said in a letter to the Judicial Ethics Committee that "every judge in this state is entitled to [a] presumption of impartiality because that is what it means to be a judge."

Tyler also takes issue with the committee's inference that O'Malley would not step down from a specific case if she felt there was a conflict of interest.

Tyler's letter quotes a 1993 opinion by Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, who appoints the ethics committee: "[J]udges are impartial participants in the legal process, whose duty to preside when qualified is as strong as their duty to refrain from presiding when not qualified."

Bell has declined to comment on the opinion, saying he does not want to sway the committee as it considers whether to take up the matter again.

O'Malley, who was strongly encouraged to ask for the opinion when she took the bench in August, was upset when it was issued last month, and said she wants it withdrawn or amended so she can hear cases involving police witnesses.

According to the opinion, the majority of the committee agreed that O'Malley and her husband, Mayor Martin O'Malley, have a "special relationship" with the Police Department because police would protect and have protected the family when they are threatened.

Judge O'Malley also does not want to be barred from hearing all cases involving the attorney general's 300 lawyers, according to Tyler's letter, which states she does not want to preside over cases in which her father is directly involved.

O'Malley hired Tyler, a former deputy attorney general who served under her father, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., to help her persuade the committee to revise its opinion.

The request is addressed to the nine-member Judicial Ethics Committee and its chairwoman, District Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey.

Cooksey, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, said last week she remembers revising only one opinion in her 17 years on the panel, and cautioned that the panel might not review the matter. But she said she would consider any letter of request sent to her on behalf of O'Malley.

O'Malley, a former Baltimore County prosecutor who wants to hear civil and criminal matters that are now largely off-limits because of the panel's opinion, said she wants to appear before the ethics committee, a request she was previously denied.

But in yesterday's request, Tyler writes that he appeared before the committee in 1996 to ask the members to reconsider whether it is ethical for judges to help indigent parties secure lawyers in certain cases. After Tyler and others spoke to the committee, it revised its opinion and withdrew the previous one, Tyler's letter states.

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