Push-ups, lockup are ordered for police who displease judge

Prevas assailed for action against detective, officer

August 31, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore judge who ordered a police detective to do 25 push-ups in court as punishment this week also had an officer arrested and locked up for three hours last week because he was on vacation on a day the judge wanted him in court.

The officer was read his rights and led away from the courtroom in handcuffs. When prosecutors discovered that their office was at fault, not the policeman, he was released. But Circuit Judge John N. Prevas did not apologize to him, instead warning he would lock up any police officers who miss court dates.

Both incidents shocked police officials and surprised attorneys. One legal scholar said that the push-up order bordered on "ludicrous" and that Prevas "crossed the line."

The courtroom episodes touch on two issues of great concern to judges - prosecutors' failure to turn over key evidence to the defense, as is required by law, and police officers' not appearing for trials.

Prevas declined to comment, saying only, "The record speaks for itself."

Prevas, 54, has been a Circuit Court judge since 1986. Among his accomplishments, he helped to create discovery court, a mechanism for resolving evidence disputes between prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Judge Stuart R. Berger, who is in charge of the criminal docket, said he did not want to comment on Prevas' conduct.

Prevas ordered homicide detective Michael Baier to do the push-ups Thursday afternoon because Baier could not explain why the gunshot laboratory report that he brought to court was not delivered sooner.

"I picked it up this morning," Baier testified. "I just brought it with me today, sir."

"Twenty-five push-ups, right now," Prevas responded with no expression on his face, pointing to the floor with his left hand.

According to a videotape of the proceeding - a hearing on a pretrial motion for an attempted murder trial - Baier asked for permission to remove his gun.

Then Baier, who was wearing a button-down shirt and necktie, lowered himself to the floor and completed one push-up.

As he did, Assistant State's Attorney Twila Driggins snapped at him: "Detective, get off the floor."

Defense lawyer Ronald I. Kurland interjected that the sanction was unnecessary: "I thought it was going to be something other than [push-ups]," he told Prevas, referring to an expected punishment for the late report.

"You don't want him to give you 25?" Prevas asked Kurland.

Baier then stood up and got back on the witness stand.

"Mr. Kurland has graciously decided he does not want you to undergo sanctions," Prevas said.

Prevas then threatened Baier, telling the detective he will lock up police officers who do not provide information to the court in a timely manner.

"This time I chose this sanction," Prevas said. "If people continue not to provide the state's attorney with information in a timely fashion, I will probably require [Police Commissioner Edward T.] Norris to deprive all officers of secondary employment and start holding people in contempt and put them in jail.

"So spread the word."

`Abuse of his power'

Abraham A. Dash, a professor of legal ethics at the University of Maryland School of Law, said he thought the incident "bordered on ludicrous."

This case "is an abuse of his power to hold someone in contempt of court," Dash said. "Judges can hold someone in contempt of court, [but] they are not supposed to ask a person to do push-ups or humiliate them in another way."

Dash said he believes that it is a breach of the rules governing judicial conduct.

"Judges are supposed to treat all participants in their courtroom with respect and decorum," Dash said. "He crossed the line with this one."

Col. Robert M. Stanton, who is commander of the criminal investigation division and supervises Baier, met with Prevas yesterday in his chambers. Stanton did not disclose what happened in the meeting.

Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said he would talk to police brass during the weekend to determine whether they should try to take action against Prevas.

"I don't think he could do one push-up," McLhinney said of Prevas.

He said Prevas is a well-respected judge, but, he added, "There's no way he's right on this one."

McLhinney said he was also upset about the incident last week, on Aug. 19, when Officer Theo Fleet spent three hours in jail because of a mistake by the state's attorney's office.

Communication failure

Fleet, a patrol officer who works out of the Northwest District, was a witness in a reckless endangerment case.

He did not show up for an Aug. 16 trial because he was on vacation, and he arrived late to the trial when it resumed Aug. 19. The officer had cleared the vacation with his supervisor and with the prosecutor's office.

But before the trial, the case was moved from District Court to Circuit Court, and a change of prosecutors brought a miscommunication. One prosecutor did not tell the other that Fleet was out of town.

The court liaison office that works with officers in scheduling court appearances did not know where Fleet was.

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