For judge, love is never having to say you're guilty

March 21, 2010|By Jean Marbella Jean.MARBELLA @baltsun.com

Who says romance is dead?

Why, just the other day, Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. was presiding over what started out as a domestic abuse trial but turned a couple of hours later into a wedding ceremony.

Russell is the now-infamous Baltimore County district judge who was slated to hear a woman's charges that her boyfriend, Frederick Wood, had smacked, kicked and banged her against a wall and then dragged her across the room.

But instead, he went all matchmaking yenta, agreeing to a request by the caveman's defense lawyer to postpone the trial so the couple could get married and the new bride could invoke marital privilege not to testify against hubby. In fact, Judge Romeo just about insisted on performing the nuptials himself, that very afternoon.

Justifiably, he's gotten slammed and at least temporarily taken off the bench for treating domestic abuse allegations like some wacky plot twist in an outdated rom-com movie. But Russell's behavior is so inexplicably bizarre, I can't help but think there must be something else going on here.

Is he really a performance artist, making biting commentary on the limits of the judicial system when it comes to human relationships? Maybe he's just gone rogue, sick to death of all those dreary by-the-book criminal procedures that stifle his inner creativity?

Russell: OK, let's take up State versus I. Juana Beemer. One charge of auto theft. Defendant picks up friend in a new car, he says where'd you get the ride, she says she stole it.

Prosecutor: Yes, your honor, we have the friend here today, ready to testify.

Defense attorney: Your honor, my client asks for a delay of her trial. The witness has decided to go to law school so he can join our fine profession and represent such upstanding citizens as my client. He will then be more than happy to take the stand, although he'll decline to testify against the defendant because of lawyer-client privilege.

Russell: My thought exactly! Case postponed until - hmm, three years of law school, bar exam - everyone free May 19, 2014? Eight a.m. sharp, so we can resolve this matter quickly. You know how I like to wrap my cases up in a single day.

Or maybe there was just a raging case of the stupid virus coursing through the courtroom that day, March 10, when the Wood case came before Russell.

I don't know why the new Mrs. Wood wanted to drop the case or why, Reader, she married him. I don't know if it gave her pause - it should have - when the judge got to the till-death-do-us-part vow. I don't know whether she'd gotten over the bloody nose and swollen face that she'd been found with that November day when the cops responded to her 911 call.

But even more baffling is why Russell was so eager to enable her in forgiving and forgetting. Isn't this why the state prosecutes criminal charges and doesn't leave it up to alleged victims to seek their own justice?

The other galling thing is how amused Russell appears to be with himself. According to WBAL-TV, which reviewed recordings of the courtroom dialogue, the judge made a little funny as he sent the newlyweds off to their married bliss.

"Mr. Wood, I found you not guilty, so I can't sentence you as a defendant in any crimes," Judge Haha said, "but earlier today, I sentenced you to life married to her."

He might as well have added: Thank you, folks, I'm here all week - try the veal!

Russell indeed wasn't going anywhere for a while - he wasn't reassigned to desk duties until last week, when media reports revealed his courtroom follies. He was still on the bench when Wood's lawyer, apparently a public defender, recently came before him in another case, WBAL-TV reported. According to tapes the station played on air, judge and attorney had a grand ol' time yukking it up over what Russell called "my famous marriage case" and the national media attention it drew.

"You know, they must be desperate for news," Judge Nielsen Ratings opined.

Should the authorities take him off the bench permanently, we might well have to suffer a drought of news under certain categories, such as "courtroom behavior, outrageous," or "lifetime judicial appointments, reasons against."

But I'm willing to risk it.

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