Judge's action questioned again

After serving suspension for conduct, Balto. Co. jurist criticized for failing to issue routine protective order in domestic violence case

October 22, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

It took just a half-hour court hearing to convince the judge that Parbadee Ann Bisnath's ex-husband had threatened her with a kitchen knife in front of their children and vowed to kill her if she did not leave their house.

Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin ordered Gordan Bisnath not to abuse, threaten or harass her anymore. He directed the 48-year-old to complete an abuser intervention program. But when it came time to address the victim's request that her abuser not be permitted to contact her or return to their home - provisions that domestic violence experts say typically are granted as a matter of routine in such cases - the judge declined.

"Where is he going to live?" Lamdin asked when Barbara Solomon Brown, an attorney representing the woman, protested, according to the lawyer.

Since that hearing at the end of September, Ann Bisnath, 47, her son and daughter and their Jack Russell terrier have been living with the attorney.

"I'm scared of him. I'm really, really scared of him," Ann Bisnath said during an interview at her lawyer's office. "When he took that knife out, I just wanted to run out of there, but I was thinking about my kids. I didn't want to walk out without them."

That the judge on the case served a 30-day suspension this summer for making profane and uncivil comments in court worries the victim's lawyer even more. "My concern is that it's a progression," Brown said of the judge. "I'm afraid his actions have now gone beyond words and are now placing a woman and her children in danger."

Lamdin, whose unpaid suspension was the harshest punishment for a Maryland judge in more than two decades, said through a secretary that he could not comment on the case because it is being appealed.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence expressed concern and surprise over the judge's handling of the case.

"It's pretty routine to order an abuser out of the home," said Rosalyn Branson, executive director of TurnAround Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves victims of rape, child sexual assault and domestic violence. "The reality is that threatening, hitting and abusing people is already illegal. The additional weight of the order - that he stay away from her - is what she needs to protect herself. I don't know how helpful it is to not have him removed from the house."

She added that the protective order signed by Lamdin in this case penalizes the victim more than the abuser, forcing her to find a new place to live.

"He's making the home unsafe for her, so he's the one who should have consequences," Branson said of Gordan Bisnath. "That she and the children should be homeless because he's breaking the law makes no sense."

The case is scheduled to be heard on appeal in Circuit Court tomorrow. Gordan Bisnath is also scheduled to be in court in December on criminal charges of second-degree assault and using a dangerous weapon with intent to injure for violence that allegedly occurred Sept. 23.

Reached at work, Gordan Bisnath hung up the phone when asked about his cases.

The Bisnaths married in 1983. They had a daughter, who is now 24 years old and lives in California. And they divorced. But they stayed together and have since had two more children, now ages 14 and 11.

Gordan Bisnath runs his own auto body shop, according to court documents. Ann Bisnath works as a housekeeper, and her clients include her lawyer.

The Bisnaths' relationship, which had long included his verbally threatening and berating her, turned physically abusive in the summer of 2007, Ann Bisnath said.

One night, after an argument about Gordan Bisnath's infidelity, he cornered her and repeatedly punched her before heaving a bed at her, Ann Bisnath said.

She didn't call the police, she said, because of what she says was her ex-husband's warning: "If you call the cops," she says he told her, "you'll be leaving here in a body bag."

The most recent allegation of violence stems from last month. Upset that she had taken the children to church, Gordan Bisnath allegedly threatened to throw a glass coffee table at her in a profanity-laced tirade. After the children kept coming out of their rooms to see what was happening, Gordan Bisnath tried to throw an ottoman at his ex-wife, threatened her with a knife and hit her repeatedly with the door as he tried to force her out of their Owings Mills home, according to Ann Bisnath and court documents.

Ann Bisnath and her children fled to a neighbor's house. About 2 a.m. the next morning, they sneaked into the basement of their home and slept behind a locked door, she said.

"I didn't have anywhere to go," Ann Bisnath said.

Later that morning, she went to District Court in Towson. Judge Alexandra N. Williams signed a temporary protective order, directing Gordan Bisnath to stay away from Ann Bisnath as well as their home.

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