City judge rebuts misconduct allegations

His lawyers ask panel to dismiss accusations or send them to appeals court

September 28, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

In a rare public hearing yesterday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Alfred Nance defended himself against allegations of misconduct and asked a state judicial disciplinary panel to dismiss the matter or send it to an appeals court.

His lawyers, Jose F. Anderson and Alvin I. Frederick, argued before the Commission on Judicial Disabilities about accusations that the judge massaged a young prosecutor's shoulder and criticized the way a prospective juror wore his yarmulke in court last year.

The 11-member commission is expected to make a decision on whether to go forward with the case by the next hearing Oct. 21. If that hearing goes forward, members will then decide whether to sanction Nance.

He can be publicly reprimanded or the panel can refer the case to the state Court of Appeals, which can impose sanctions ranging from a private warning to removal from office.

According to documents made public last month, the commission found "probable cause to believe that the Judge has committed sanctionable conduct" in both cases.

But Nance's lawyers said the massage was a "tap on the shoulder," and the issue concerning the yarmulke, the traditional Jewish head covering for men, was so insignificant that "it should not be here at all."

`Chills down the spine'

"This whole procedure should send chills down the spine of every person who wears a robe," Frederick said.

Nance has been the subject of several complaints, and in 2001 received a reprimand from the panel, which found that he acted in "undignified" and "demeaning" ways toward women in his court and chambers.

Yesterday, Anderson argued that the investigative process is inherently unfair, because the commission that investigates a claim also decides the outcome.

He said that the commission is biased because it charged him with the violations, and therefore cannot act as an impartial judge in his case. He asked that the commission find its procedures, which have been sanctioned by the Court of Appeals, unconstitutional.

"This is a life-altering decision that will be made without review except by the people who issue it," Anderson said.

Additionally, Anderson said that Nance has been "disgraced in front of his friends and family and his place of worship" because of recent news accounts.

Speaking for the commission was its investigative counsel, Steven P. Lemmey, who said that the panel followed its rules.

"The commission has acted appropriately," Lemmey told the panel. "You are charged with deciding a case based on what comes before you."

Nance, 56, a former public defender who later founded a law firm, was appointed to the city Circuit Court by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1997. The next year, Nance won election to a 15-year term.

Nance is accused of violating four of the six canons of Maryland's code of judicial conduct, including integrity, avoidance of impropriety, and being patient, dignified and courteous, according to the code.

One charge said that in June last year Nance chastised the man wearing a yarmulke.

"Now, I've seen yarmulkes worn in many different ways, but not that one," he said, according to the documents. "Now, if you want to wear a yarmulke in my courtroom, out of respect for your religion, you will wear it respectfully or take it off in my courtroom."

Earlier allegations

When allegations surfaced against Nance in 2001, the judge avoided an open hearing by accepting a public reprimand. He was the last judge publicly reprimanded in Baltimore.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities rarely holds public hearings. The last one was in 2002, shortly before the panel reprimanded Montgomery County Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson for out-of-court comments he made about a sex-abuse case pending before him.

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