Taking a rare step, the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities has issued a public reprimand to Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, one of the longest-serving members of the bench.
Also yesterday, the commission canceled a public hearing on Prince George's County District Judge Richard A. Palumbo, who retired last week amid controversy about his comments to a domestic violence victim who was later severely burned by a man from whom she had been seeking a protective order.
The commission investigated and held a public hearing in June on the Prevas matter. Commission data show it has issued two public reprimands in the past three years to Maryland judges.
The commission found Prevas was wrong in three instances: calling a defendant in his courtroom "a jerk," interrupting his court proceedings to help his longtime companion delay her jury duty and entering a finding of not guilty for a defendant who had requested a jury trial.
During a hearing June 9, 2004, the commission found, Prevas "shouted in a loud and angry voice" at a defendant who had tried to fire his lawyer.
"It was obvious from the videotape [of the hearing] that Judge Prevas had temporarily lost control of his words and actions," the commission found.
On July 6, 2005, Prevas stopped his docket to take a telephone call from Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis, then the city judge responsible for managing jury duty.
In open court, Prevas arranged for his longtime companion to reschedule her jury duty.
"Judge Prevas' decision to accomplish this intervention while on the bench ... distrust[s] this public proceeding, and suggest[s] to any person present that a friend of the judge could receive special favors," the commission said.
The same day, Prevas questioned a witness in a criminal case about why she had failed to show up at a prior proceeding.
He concluded that he could not trust the witness to tell the truth and entered a finding of not guilty without giving the prosecutor the opportunity to call other witnesses.
Palumbo had been scheduled to participate in a public hearing Aug. 28 and 29 that would have been similar to the one Prevas faced.
But commission officials said yesterday that his retirement means the public "is adequately protected from any further allegations of inappropriate conduct by Judge Palumbo."