Judge punished for profanity

Lamdin draws a 30-day suspension

May 14, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN REPORTER

The state's highest court suspended a Baltimore County judge yesterday for making profane and uncivil comments from the bench, issuing the harshest punishment for a Maryland judge in more than two decades and, observers said, sending a message to judges to watch their behavior.

The Court of Appeals found that District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin violated the state's judicial code of conduct. It accepted a judicial commission's recommendation that the judge be suspended for 30 days without pay.

Lamdin, 60, tossed profanities at defendants from the bench, joked that Circuit Court judges spend afternoons drinking rather than working and chastised a woman accused of prostitution by telling her, "Business must be good. ... If I released you, you'd be scratching that itch tonight."

To a man accused of speeding on Interstate 83, he asked, "What's the big rush to get back to Pennsylvania? It's an ugly state." When a woman left his courtroom with a crying baby he pointed out that confiscated cell phones are placed in plastic bags to be sent to Annapolis and added: "Maybe we ought to do the same thing with children except poke holes in the bag."

His comments included disparaging remarks about drug treatment programs and the Baltimore City criminal justice system. He said that one defendant couldn't seem to keep from stepping in "a pile of [expletive]." He used a slang term for oral sex while sentencing a woman on prostitution charges.

The Court of Appeals, in a 24-page opinion, said the conduct "was prejudicial to the administration of justice, manifested bias toward many groups, and lacked dignity, courtesy, and patience."

The court added: "Even if the comments were delivered in a joking manner, it is difficult to imagine a context in which such remarks would be appropriate or consistent with behavior that promotes public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the Judiciary."

An investigation into Lamdin's conduct began when a Reisterstown man filed a complaint about the judge's handling of traffic cases. The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities ordered audio recordings of nine months of hearings from Lamdin's courtroom.

Gary J. Kolb, an attorney and executive secretary of the commission, said his colleagues were pleased with the court's decision.

"It's a wake-up call for judges on how they should act," Kolb said. "The opinion will be important for them to review. And of course the public will feel good that the court feels like this is an important issue."

Kolb said the commission sometimes receives complaints about other judges, but Lamdin's case was unusual because of the high number in a relatively short time.

"It's not like he had a bad day and said a few things," Kolb said. "But, I think we're blessed in Maryland. We don't have a lot of serious activity going on with judges. They seem to be, by and large, doing their jobs and a good job at it."

Neither Lamdin nor his lawyer returned phone calls seeking comment. In a letter to the commission, Lamdin acknowledged that his comments could be viewed as "discourteous, undignified and therefore sanctionable."

"In an attempt to reach criminal defendants with my comments, I talked in language I knew they understood," he wrote. "The comments were not mean-spirited, but I realized I went over the line."

Lamdin has been a District Court judge since 2002. He graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1972 and is a member of the Substance Abuse Advisory Council in Baltimore County.

Attorneys and judges have described him as a hard worker with a dry wit who genuinely cares about both the victims and perpetrators of crime.

The case against him comes more than a decade after two other Baltimore County judges faced potential discipline for comments from the bench.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger was reprimanded but not suspended for comments in a 1993 rape case that involved an 18-year-old woman who had passed out in a man's bed. The judge labeled the situation "the dream of a lot of males."

In October 1994, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. was criticized for saying, when a man pleaded guilty to shooting his wife after catching her in bed with another man, that he could not imagine someone in that position not feeling compelled to resort to some sort of corporal punishment. A state judicial disciplinary board dismissed all charges against Cahill.

Two years ago, the Commission on Judicial Disabilities issued a public reprimand to Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas for misconduct that included calling a defendant in his courtroom "a jerk."

The commission charged Lamdin with 20 instances of sanctionable conduct between September 2005 and May 2006, although the panel's lawyer dropped six of those charges after the judge agreed that his comments in the remaining cases violated the code of judicial conduct.

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