Dwyer to push for judge's impeachment

February 24, 2006|By KELLY BREWINGTON AND JENNIFER SKALKA | KELLY BREWINGTON AND JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTERS

A state lawmaker wants the judge who ruled that the state's definition of marriage was unconstitutional to be removed from the bench, meaning Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock would face the same fate as only one other jurist in Maryland history.

That Civil War-era judge was punished for getting drunk and falling asleep in court.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican, said in a statement yesterday that he is preparing a General Assembly resolution asking that Murdock lose her job. Dwyer sent the judge a copy of the resolution yesterday and said he plans to present it to the legislature next week. A two-thirds vote in each chamber is needed for passage.

"Judge Murdock must be removed from office for misbehavior in office, [willful] neglect of duty, and incompetency," said Dwyer in the statement. Dwyer was the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. The amendment was killed by a House committee this month.

A judge can only be removed from the bench if it is proved that he or she can't properly perform the duties of the office, according to Kathryn Rowe, an assistant attorney general.

"There does have to be some cause," Rowe said. "They can't just not like you."

If a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate votes for removal, the measure will then require the governor's signature to take effect, Rowe said.

Judge Henry Stump of the Baltimore City Criminal Court is the only official to meet that fate. Drinking and routine snoozing on the bench did him in. Gov. Thomas H. Hicks ordered his ouster in 1861, according to the Maryland State Archives.

Dwyer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who is representing several gay and lesbian plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit claiming that the state's gay-marriage prohibition was unconstitutional, called Dwyer's letter "a frivolous, dangerous and extremist response from the lunatic fringe."

"Don Dwyer may not like Judge Murdock's decision, that's fine, but there is not the slightest scintilla of doubt that she did absolutely anything that warrants impeachment," he said. Rocah said Dwyer's attempts to remove Murdock are an assault on the judiciary.

"There is a tendency, especially lately among legislators, to think that judges who disagree with them have committed some wrongdoing, and the solution is either, therefore, to take issues away from the judiciary or get rid of the judges, and that's a profound threat to the rule of law in this state and around the country," he said.

Sally Rankin, a spokeswoman for Maryland's judiciary, said Murdock received Dwyer's letter yesterday. She said Murdock would not comment, but would consider doing so if lawmakers take up the issue. She said removal from office should not be taken lightly.

"Otherwise this action would weaken our court system and interfere with its ability to provide access to justice for all," Rankin said in a statement.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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