If it was a mistake, Judge Crooks, then how about an apology?

I recently wrote a guest column for the Annapolis Capital in which I gave my opinion that the decision by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Mark Crooks to pose for a photograph with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in September 2017 at a fundraiser for Mr. Moore was an error in judgment that should cost Judge Crooks his bid to be elected to a full 15-year term as a circuit court judge this year. The column drew strong reactions, with some readers concurring with my view and others disagreeing.

One supporter of Judge Crooks excoriated me for placing too much emphasis on an innocent mistake by Judge Crooks. Judge Crooks claimed that he was unaware of what Mr. Moore stood for when he attended Mr. Moore’s fundraiser in September. If it was a mistake, then Judge Crooks should have done two things: Admit that he made a mistake and apologize for it. He did neither.

The report of a sitting judge in Anne Arundel County showing up at a fundraiser for Mr. Moore was unsettling and hurtful to people of color, Muslims, and members of the LGBT community. It is those citizens to whom Judge Crooks owes an apology.

The background.

The photograph of Judge Crooks standing next to Mr. Moore was taken at a fundraiser held in Severna Park to help finance Mr. Moore’s campaign for a seat in the United States Senate representing Alabama, a campaign that mercifully proved unsuccessful. Judge Crooks, along with many prominent Anne Arundel County Republicans, attended the fundraiser.

Mr. Moore is by far the most notorious state court judge in the United States of the past 20 years. First elected chief justice in 2001, Mr. Moore was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order instructing him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandants that he had installed in the state judiciary building.

In 2005, Mr. Moore told an interviewer that homosexual conduct should be made illegal. In 2006, he wrote an op-ed in which he said that a Muslim should not be a member of Congress because “Islamic philosophy [is] directly contrary to the principles of the Constitution.”

Mr. Moore was reelected as chief justice by the people of Alabama in 2013. He was suspended from his position in 2016 and later resigned after instructing state probate court judges that they could refuse to apply the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court on same-sex marriages. After resigning as chief justice, Mr. Moore announced his candidacy for the United States Senate.

Mr. Moore’s only apparent connection to Anne Arundel County is his friendship with Anne Arundel County Councilman Michael Peroutka, who represents the Severna Park area. In 2012, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Mr. Peroutka was the single-biggest donor to Mr. Moore’s 2012 campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court, having contributed $50,000 of the total $78,000 received by Moore through December 31, 2011.

Until 2014, Mr. Peroutka was a member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate white nationalist movement that long has supported Mr. Moore. Mr. Peroutka’s past affiliation with the League of the South has been a source of controversy in Anne Arundel County since the day that Mr. Peroutka was elected in 2014, sparking protests at meetings of the County Council.

Photographs of Mr. Moore with various people who attended the fundraiser in Severna Park, including Judge Crooks, were posted to a Facebook album labeled “Judge Roy Moore Fundraiser.” They were downloaded and made public by a news site known as The Arundel Patriot on December 11, 2017, causing a firestorm of public criticism.

The explanation.

Why in the world did a sitting judge on the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County go to a fundraiser for a former state chief court justice from Alabama who is a well-known bigot, hater and enemy of the rule of law? According to the Patriot, Judge Crooks stated that “I didn’t do my homework to know what he was all about, even remotely.” Crooks added that “I try to go to Democratic events, too.” It was the closest thing to an admission of a mistake that I could find.

On December 20, 2018, the following was posted to “Friends of Judge Mark W. Crooks” on Facebook:

“Friends of Judge Mark W. Crooks campaign strongly disavows Roy Moore – the man, his viewpoints, his jurisprudence and his predatory acts. When Judge Crooks was urged to stop for an impromptu photograph with Moore in September, he was unaware of Roy Moore and what he stood for. During their brief exchange, they discussed their prior military service.

Judge Crooks accepted an invitation to attend the event consistent with his pledge to visit any place in Anne Arundel County to meet citizens and voters from all walks of life. Indeed, Judge Crooks attends gatherings, political or otherwise, of every type. Judge Crooks’ entire career has been dedicated to serving the public, tackling corruption and protecting children, the defrauded and disenfranchised. Judge Crooks has never supported Roy Moore in any way.”

That’s an explanation – an excuse, really – and is neither an admission of a mistake nor an apology for the mistake. After my guest column was published, Judge Crooks posted the following on Facebook:

“Contrary to what has been reported, I have never supported Roy Moore in ANY way. I have never made contributions or given words of support whatsoever. Also, the event was well before his predatory behavior became known. As a sitting judge, I was not given permission to comment until the AL [Alabama] election was over.”

The reference to Mr. Moore’s sexual predations is a red herring. Mr. Moore’s sexual habits did not become well-known until shortly before the senatorial election in November 2017. His history of racial and religious prejudice and judicial misconduct has been well-known for much longer.

The apology that should have been.

The explanation by Judge Crooks of his attendance at the fundraiser is devoid of a key element: Contrition. Here is what an admission of a mistake and an apology should have looked like, accepting as true the claim by Judge Crooks that he knew nothing of Mr. Moore’s background:

“I failed to look into Mr. Moore’s background before attending his fundraiser. Had I done so I would not have gone to the fundraiser, because Mr. Moore’s history of bigotry, hatred and defiance of the rule of law is contrary to everything that I stand for. It was a mistake for which I sincerely apologize, especially to those who have been hurt by Mr. Moore’s words and actions.

Over the past two years a lot of things have been “normalized” that previously would have been considered unacceptable. Attendance by an Anne Arundel County judge at a fundraiser for a former state jurist who arrogated to himself the right to ignore a federal court order and to reject a decision by the United States Supreme Court is one of those things. That can’t be allowed to be normal, and we need to resist the view of those who dismiss it as “no big deal.”

It is not too late for Judge Crooks to apologize. I am told that he is a man of impeccable character. He can demonstrate that by apologizing for attending a campaign event for a man like Roy Moore.

Judge Crooks, if you are being told by your political advisers not to apologize for any offense you caused to citizens most in need of the protections of the rule of law because of the political fall-out from such an apology, ignore them. If you had any advisers worth their salt, they never would have allowed you to attend a campaign event for Mr. Moore in the first place.

May 9, 2018

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