Judge in BGE suit takes second look at utilities market

Matricciani removed final obstacle to deregulation in Maryland in 2000

May 12, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. spent the better part of the summer of 2000 learning the inner workings of the utilities world. That September, he issued an opinion that effectively removed the final obstacle to deregulating the electricity industry in Maryland.

More than five years later, Matricciani again finds himself pondering public utilities. He issued an order late Wednesday prohibiting BGE from advertising its rate deferral plan while the court considers a city lawsuit that would send the proposal back for more regulatory review.

"It's like deja vu, in a way," Matricciani said in an interview yesterday. He said he plans to draw upon his experiences from 2000 as this latest utilities-related lawsuit moves forward. A full hearing is scheduled for May 30.

Matricciani, 59, began his law career in 1974 as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau, which is where, he said, he developed "an interest in public interest." He went on to work at three Baltimore law firms, including one he formed with Carol E. Smith, also now a Circuit Court judge.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Matricciani to the city bench in 1994. Matricciani's current term expires in 2011.

Since his appointment and subsequent election, Matricciani has helped develop two specialized courts - one to handle family issues, such as divorce and child custody, and one for complex business and technology issues.

Matricianni said it makes sense for judges to master an area of the law. "You wouldn't want a complicated patent case in front of a juvenile judge," he said.

Described by those who know him as scholarly and thoughtful, Matricianni said he thrives on delving into "complex issues that you can get your mind around and really dig into." Utilities cases, such as the one before him now, present an "enjoyable challenge," he said.

Though it is trite, Smith said, the phrase "a gentleman and a scholar" is an apt description.

"He's a very serious, conscientious kind of judge," Smith said. "He greatly appreciates good scholarship and is concerned about his own."

Matricciani's chambers are among the cleaner and more spacious rooms at Courthouse East on North Calvert Street. His office is decorated with photos of his fiancee of more than a decade, Susan Elgin, a divorce lawyer in Towson, and her two grown children, whom he considers stepchildren.

A dozen perfectly sharpened pencils fill one gargoyle-shaped holder on his desk; an array of shiny pens fill another. Back issues of legal journals and The Economist are neatly stacked on a table in his entryway. Colleagues said Matricciani is an avid reader - material as varied as novels and science articles.

Matricciani sat in his chambers late yesterday morning reading a letter from a man he'd sentenced to life in prison after a rape conviction. "A love letter," he said dryly, remarking that, like all judges, he receives death threats.

The judge's thin-to-gaunt figure belies his childhood size: Friends said he weighed enough to play football quite well and be teased about his size by his classmates.

Matricciani was born in Northeast Baltimore and attended Loyola Blakefield High School in Towson and Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he's now an adjunct professor.

He said he became interested in a judgeship after serving 12 years on judicial nominating commissions. He thought he could embody some of the characteristics he looked for in a judge: broad experience, an even temper, thoughtfulness, decisiveness.

As a judge, Matricianni has had a series of interesting cases, both civil and criminal. In April last year, he tossed out a lawsuit brought by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, who was fired. Clark was seeking $120 million and his job back.

"Did I decide that case?" he asked, laughing that he'd forgotten about it.

Others do stick with him. In January 2001, a jury acquitted a mentally ill homeless man in the stabbing death of Christian W. Ludwig, 26, a University of Maryland dental student. "It was so sad for everybody involved," he said.

A sketch of Matricciani presiding over the case hangs in his conference room.

Throughout 2004 and last year, Matricciani oversaw two trials and one guilty plea of the three men charged with killing Baltimore police Detective Thomas G. Newman.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy had been seeking the death penalty against one of the two shooters, but jurors sentenced both to life in prison. The getaway driver pleaded guilty last year and was also sentenced to life.

"The thought that I might have to sign a death warrant certainly weighed on me," Matricciani said.

Some proceedings during his years as head of the family court division of Circuit Court also proved memorable - such as the divorcing wealthy couple with so much valuable artwork that Matricciani had to appoint a special master to sort it all out.

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