Judge faces hearing over his conduct

Baltimore County's Lamdin charged for bench comments

October 15, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

Not long after taking the bench for the afternoon docket, Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin noticed a woman leaving the courtroom with a crying baby.

"If she only knew how much I hate kids," the judge said, "she would not have brought that kid in here today."

He later asked a Pennsylvania man caught speeding why every resident of that state "drives like a fool."

"What is it up there? Is it in the water?" Lamdin asked. "You know, I get on [Interstate] 83 every day, going back and forth to work, and you all go flying by me. ... What's the big rush to get back to Pennsylvania? It's an ugly state."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Monday's editions of The Sun about a Baltimore County District Court judge facing disciplinary action incorrectly identified the location of the college where he earned his bachelor's degree. Hampden-Sydney College is 60 miles southwest of Richmond, Va., according to the school's Web site.
The Sun regrets the error.

Those comments - along with disparaging remarks about drug treatment programs and the Baltimore City criminal justice system, a joke that the county's Circuit Court judges spend their afternoons sipping cocktails rather than working, and profanity not normally heard from the bench - led to charges that Lamdin had violated Maryland's judicial code of conduct.

Last week, the state's highest court ordered the judge to show why he should not be suspended or otherwise sanctioned for his conduct.

It is the first time the Maryland Court of Appeals has scheduled a hearing in such a case since 1984, when the high court removed a judge from office for forging court documents, according to Gary J. Kolb, an attorney and the executive secretary of the state panel that investigates complaints about judges.

Lamdin, 59, did not respond to requests for an interview, and his lawyer declined to comment.

But in letters to the commission, in legal filings from his attorney and during a one-hour public hearing before the panel in June, the judge admitted violating the canons of the judicial code of conduct. He has sought the guidance of three judges who have been mentoring him since June 2006. And he explained that his courtroom commentary is often intended to ease tense moments with humor or to get through to the types of people he represented as a criminal defense attorney in language they can understand.

"I now realize how my comments could be viewed as discourteous, undignified and therefore sanctionable," Lamdin wrote in one letter. "In an attempt to reach criminal defendants with my comments, I talked in language I knew they understood. The comments were not mean-spirited, but I realized I went over the line."

A Baltimore native, Lamdin attended City College, Hampden-Sydney College in Richmond, Va., and the University of Maryland School of Law before following his father into the legal profession. I. Sewell Lamdin served as chief judge of Baltimore's now-defunct municipal court and then as a District Court judge. After his retirement in 1983, he joined his son in a private practice that focused largely on criminal defense work.

Attorneys and judges who have known Lamdin during his 30-year career as a lawyer - as well as those who have appeared before him since his 2002 appointment to the bench - describe him as a hard worker with a dry wit who genuinely cares about both the victims and perpetrators of crime.

"He is such a breath of fresh air," said Robert W. MacMeekin, a defense attorney who wrote to Lamdin in July 2006 about his handling of a woman accused of drunken driving. "He's a real human being, and the people in court in front of him feel like they're in front of somebody who's like them."

In the letter - sent four months before the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities charged Lamdin with making "sanctionable" comments in court - MacMeekin encouraged the judge to continue his approach to the cases he hears.

"I know that a day in your court is a compelling one and that from time to time, you may face challenges because you say what you mean," the attorney wrote. "If there ever comes a time [when] doing the right thing as you see it puts your robe in jeopardy, you have somebody at this end who will help cover your back."

Criminal defense attorney David B. Irwin has known Lamdin professionally since they both worked as prosecutors in the mid-1970s in the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.

"He's a very good judge, and he has a good heart," he said of Lamdin. "It just sometimes comes out of his mouth wrong."

Like others interviewed, Irwin said that the judge has noticeably toned down his courtroom commentary.

"It's not as much fun to be in front of him, and he's not as funny as he used to be," he said. "But it's a serious job, and I understand the commission's point that you have to have the appearance of judiciousness."

The commission that brought charges against Lamdin is a little-known panel that does much of its work in secret. During the past 12 years, the judicial disabilities commission has received an average of 111 written complaints per year about the state's district, circuit, appeals and orphans court judges.

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