Friday, March 19, 2010

Advocates Outraged by Baltimore Judge's Actions

By Nick Madigan |
March 19, 2010

Advocates for abused women reacted with outrage Thursday after learning that a Baltimore County judge had enabled a 29-year-old man to be found not guilty of assault when he officiated at the marriage of the defendant and the woman he was accused of beating.

Another judge who waived the required 48-hour waiting period between the issuance of the marriage license and the wedding ceremony did not know the circumstances, according to that judge and a court official.

"It's appalling," said Lisae C. Jordan, general counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We know to anticipate that behavior from batterers, but to have the judiciary involved in assisting a batterer is just appalling."

Frederick D. Wood had been charged with second-degree assault after his fiancee claimed that on Nov. 29 he hit her in the face, bloodied her nose, kicked her and banged her head against a wall at his home in Middle River.

But when the domestic violence case against him came up for trial on March 10, District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. allowed Wood to leave his courtroom in Essex to obtain a marriage license. Before the day was over, Russell married Wood and his fiancee in his chambers. The woman then invoked marital privilege so that she would not be required to testify against her husband, and Russell found Wood not guilty.

"Here's somebody who is clearly injured. And the authority figure, rather than acting neutrally or doing something to help protect her, pushed her into more entanglement with the alleged batterer," said Dorothy Lennig, longtime director of the legal clinic at the House of Ruth, which helps battered women and their children.

"Often the abuser will threaten the victim into invoking the spousal privilege," Lennig said. "For all we know, he could have figuratively been holding a gun to her head."

WBAL-TV first reported Russell's actions.

Another woman, Mildred Shank, obtained a temporary peace order against Wood on May 18, 2009, in the same Essex courthouse. The case was dismissed May 26 when neither party showed up in court.

Russell, the judge in last week's case, has been reassigned to desk duties and is not hearing cases pending the outcome of an investigation. He could not be reached Thursday for comment. A clerk in Russell's chambers said in early afternoon that Russell had left for the day.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. said in a prepared statement that he was unaware of the circumstances when he waived the required 48-hour waiting period between the issuance of the marriage license and the wedding ceremony.

Cahill said the request for a waiver was routine and was made by the couple "on a mutual and voluntary basis." He said he was "provided with no other information concerning the reason for the request" and was "not informed of any proceedings in the District Court."

Angelita Plemmer, a spokeswoman for Maryland's judiciary, reiterated Cahill's statement. "He had no idea," she said.

Jordan said this was an example of why the 48-hour waiting period was in state law.

"This is exactly the sort of situation it's designed to prevent," Jordan said, "and to give a person some time to reflect about the seriousness of what they're doing, and perhaps get away from a fiance who may have been threatening to her."

Gary Kolb, executive secretary of the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates complaints against judges, said it was too soon to know whether this issue would come before the panel. The commission can recommend removing a judge from the bench.

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