Md. probe targets judge

Investigation centers on suspected dumping of debris

November 09, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

State investigators are exploring criminal charges against a Baltimore judge who is suspected of dumping more than 40 truckloads of debris along the waterfront of his property in Pasadena.

This week, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold questioned the pace of the investigation, which county officials began in October last year after receiving a tip that landfill rubble - including drywall, cinderblocks and broken bathroom fixtures - had been deposited along the shores of the Patapsco River on a Riviera Beach property owned by District Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr. The investigation was referred to state authorities.

In a letter to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, released this week by county officials, Leopold wondered whether Gatewood was receiving preferential treatment and questioned the commitment of a newly formed state environmental crimes division.

"The fact this violator is a prominent personage creates the unfortunate impression that he is receiving special treatment," Leopold wrote in the Nov. 1 letter. "This case is the most egregious violation of its nature within the collective memory of our inspectors and attorneys."

Leopold said in an interview yesterday that he has since spoken with Gansler, who, he said, viewed it as "a serious manner" that would be "investigated promptly."

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the agency has been investigating the issue for months.

"While we cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation, we are aware of the issue and have been looking into it for months," she said. "The county executive is well aware of that, and when and if we decided to file charges, we'll let him know ."

Gatewood did not respond to requests for comment left at his office, but his attorney also challenged the timing of Leopold's letter.

"I think the county executive is right about one thing: No charges have been filed," said John F. Dougherty. "If any are - and the people whose job it is to make that decision so far have decided not to - we will defend the judge and expect he will be exonerated.

"I think the county executive, maybe because he's relatively new to the process, doesn't fully understand it. But the people whose job is to deal with it on a day-to-day basis don't have the same excitement he has," Dougherty said.

The disclosure of the investigation this week raised the possibility of other complications for Gatewood, who as a Baltimore City District Court judge is required to reside in the city. But a court official said Gatewood's residency status was in good standing.

Gatewood's Pasadena home on Bay Road was described as a part-time home where he had been performing shoreline restoration work to repair damage from 2003's Tropical Storm Isabel, though inspectors found no evidence of such damage.

The county received an anonymous tip on Oct. 9 last year that trucks - possibly as many as 40, an investigation later revealed - were dumping landfill material along the water, where the Patapsco River meets Stony Creek.

The county issued a stop-work order Oct. 13, 2006, but inspectors found evidence of more dumping.

A chief concern of Leopold was that the statute of limitations to charge Gatewood could have expired, given the amount of time that has passed.

But officials said yesterday that a "toll agreement" - which essentially stops the clock from ticking - had been reached.

Still, Leopold said he didn't understand the delay given what he believes is a clear case of environmental violations.

"Everyone in the county is required to play by the same rules," he said.

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