Organization file complaint against Baltimore County judge

March 25, 2010|By Nick Madigan |

Two organizations that foster women's legal rights filed a complaint Thursday with a panel that disciplines judges, asking it to investigate a Baltimore County jurist who performed a wedding ceremony between a woman and the man accused of beating her, and then acquitted him.

The House Of Ruth Maryland and the Women's Law Center of Maryland called the behavior of District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. "grossly inappropriate."

On March 10, when a 29-year-old Middle River man, Frederick D. Wood, appeared in an Essex courtroom on a charge that he had beaten his fiancee, Russell acquiesced to Wood's lawyer's suggestion that his client leave to obtain a marriage license. The judge volunteered to perform the wedding ceremony himself, and did so later that day in his chambers.

The newly married Shelly Pearl Say, 27, then invoked marital privilege so that she would not have to testify against Wood about allegations that he beat her on Nov. 29. Russell found Wood not guilty.

"Rather than acting impartially, he actually assisted the defendant," Dorothy Lennig, director of the House of Ruth's legal clinic, said Thursday. "He circumvented the judicial process."

Also, she said, Russell could not have known whether Say had been "coerced" into marrying Wood, with whom she has two children. Faced with the judge's willingness to marry the couple, "she may not have felt she had a choice," Lennig said.

The judge, on the bench since 1990, has been reassigned to desk duties pending the outcome of a court probe into his actions and could not be reached for comment.

A representative of the Maryland Judicial Disabilities Commission, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, said that complaints filed with the commission are secret. Only when the panel completes its work do its findings become known.

A statement issued by the Women's Law Center and the House of Ruth said that Russell's actions "show an appalling disregard for the plight of victims of domestic violence who appear as witnesses against their abusers in criminal court." Victims of violence, it went on, "should be able to go to a Maryland courtroom and not fear leaving that courtroom wed to their abusers."

A police report of the Nov. 29 incident that led to a second-degree assault charge against Wood said he had "smacked" Say's face and "proceeded to kick her in the side." He then "banged her head against the wall" and "grabbed her by the feet and drug her through the house," the officer wrote.

Police said Say had suffered "several visible injuries," including a bloody nose and a swollen face near her left eye.

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