Plea to Maryland leaders: Fix Baltimore police discipline

David A. Plymyer

This is a plea to the governor and leaders of the Maryland General Assembly: Please take charge of fixing the broken disciplinary system of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). This is a problem that only you can solve. The fix requires changes to state law, and the longer a fix is delayed, the worse the problems within the BPD become.

If we have learned anything over the past three years, since the fatal injury to Freddie Gray in the back of a police van — culminating with the fallout from the Gun Trace Task Force — it is that the current disciplinary system doesn’t work. The flapdoodle between Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis and members of the Civilian Review Board, who are refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding police misconduct allegations, is the latest example of the need to straighten out this mess.

The Community Oversight Task Force, an advisory body mandated by the consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice, recently recommended taking away from the BPD investigatory responsibility for allegations of police misconduct involving civilians. The responsibility would be given to an independent agency staffed by civilians and known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). COPA would be supervised by another new entity, the Police Accountability Commission.

Under the task force proposal, the existing system governed by the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) would be retained by the BPD to investigate allegations of police misconduct not involving civilians. In other words, the proposal would take a system that already is too complex and make it even more byzantine. The system needs fewer moving parts, not more.

The best chance of success to maintain the discipline of the BPD lies in restoring the power to the Baltimore Police Commissioner and holding the commissioner strictly accountable for the results. Here is what I believe should be done:

• Under the LEOBR, the decision whether an officer has committed a violation for which discipline may be imposed is made by a hearing board, rather than by the commissioner. Hearing boards consist of rotating groups of other officers from within the department. Members of hearing boards are accountable to no one for their decisions. Eliminate the hearing boards. Return decisions on whether officers have committed disciplinary violations to the commissioner.

• I agree with the Community Oversight Task Force that more oversight of police discipline is required. Recast the existing Civilian Review Board from a parallel investigatory agency into a body with true oversight authority, including unfettered real-time access to employees, personnel records and investigatory files. Give it an ombudsman role for complainants and the power to subpoena witnesses if necessary to ascertain the quality of an internal investigation. The roles of the BPD and the reconstituted Civilian Review Board would not overlap. It would be the job of the commissioner to enforce discipline; it would be the job of the review board to monitor how well the commissioner does so.

• Require the Civilian Review Board to prepare an annual report on disciplinary actions that evaluates the performance of the commissioner in enforcing discipline. If the commissioner’s performance is unsatisfactory then the mayor has an obvious remedy: Fire the commissioner. Citizens might be pleasantly surprised how fear of losing his or her job focuses a public official’s attention on a task. But you can’t do that until you give the official the tools to accomplish the task.

• Finally, scrap the confidentiality laws that shield the records of disciplinary actions from public scrutiny. It’s absurd that, given the crisis in confidence in the BPD, we’re still concerned with protecting its officers from what — a bit of embarrassment?

If you’re worried about resistance from police unions to amending the LEOBR, remember this: The LEOBR was enacted by the General Assembly in 1974 to strip former Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau of the unilateral power to purge corrupt officers from the BDP.

Pomerleau’s quest to end the corruption that was rampant in the BPD when he took over in 1966 was unpopular among many officers — and among some politicians. Ask yourself: Do you believe that the constraints on the ability of recent commissioners to get rid of corrupt officers have been a good thing or a bad thing?

Fixing the problems with the disciplinary system of the BPD requires action by the General Assembly and leadership by the governor. Governor Hogan, if you are re-elected in the fall, I have some good news for you: This is one thing that you can do for the city that won’t cost a dime.

David A. Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County attorney in 2014 and also served for five years as an assistant state’s attorney for Anne Arundel County. His email is dplymyer@comcast.net; Twitter: @dplymyer.

[Published as an op-ed by The Baltimore Sun on July 31, 2018 but not posted to my blog until October 25, 2018. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]

Hey, Al Redmer, you aren’t running against Ben Jealous

Will someone please remind Al Redmer Jr. that his opponent in the race to be the next Baltimore County Executive is not Ben Jealous (“In Baltimore County, Redmer and Olszewski again fight over Ben Jealous,” Aug. 24)? Mr. Redmer is running against Johnny Olszewski Jr., but you wouldn’t know that from the main theme of his campaign so far.

Mr. Redmer, a Republican, has been pressing Mr. Olszewski to “clarify” his support for Mr. Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor running against Gov. Larry Hogan. The banner headline on Mr. Redmer’s website under “news” reads: “Al Redmer, Jr., calls on opponent to finally clarify support for Ben Jealous.”

At best, Mr. Redmer is trying to trade on the popularity of Mr. Hogan in Baltimore County. At worst, Mr. Redmer is trying to tie Mr. Olszewski to Mr. Jealous and portray Mr. Olszewski as too liberal to run Baltimore County. In Baltimore County, that message has a definite racial dog-whistle quality to it.

Did I mention that the headline on the Redmer website is accompanied by large side-by-side photos of Mr. Olszewski and Mr. Jealous, lest anyone be confused about who they are — or what they look like? The last thing that Baltimore County needs is a smear campaign that diverts attention from the issues confronting the county. Rather than worry about whether Mr. Olszewski supports Mr. Jealous, Mr. Redmer should tell voters how he would avert what the county’s own Spending Affordability Committee has identified as a looming financial crisis.

How will he pay to replace or repair the county’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure including schools and roads? What will he do to fix the county’s development review process, which is broken, and, in some cases, corrupted by special interests?

Local government is the government closest to the people. It is about real-life issues: The quality of schools and other public facilities, responsible land use practices, the enforcement of building and environmental codes and adequate police and fire protection. Consequently, a candidate for local office who bases a campaign on attacking an opponent’s political orientation is admitting that he or she could not win a campaign based on the issues. I believe that the voters of Baltimore County are more than smart enough to figure that out.

David A. Plymyer, Catonsville

[Published as a letter to the editor by The Baltimore Sun on August 28, 2018 but not posted to my blog until October 27, 2018.  The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]

Johns Hopkins gets the old double whammy from the Baltimore City Council.

Last March, the Baltimore City Council passed Resolution No. 18-0073R opposing the plan by Johns Hopkins to establish its own police department. Last week, four members of the council sent a letter to Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle asking him to discontinue the supplemental deployment of officers to the campuses of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, to which I will refer collectively as Johns Hopkins. The letter was an incredibly cheap shot aimed at Baltimore’s most important and prestigious private institutions.

It looks like those four members of the City Council, including its president, Jack Young and the Vice Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Brandon Scott, want to give Johns Hopkins a double whammy, the old one-two punch. First, the council helped block the initiative by Johns Hopkins to set up and pay for its own police department to keep its campuses safe.

Now, four members of the council want to eliminate the city officers assigned to the vicinity of the medical campus that officers of the proposed Johns Hopkins police force would have replaced. What is going on? Do the four members of the council not care about the safety of Johns Hopkins students, patients and employees?

The background.

Legislation authorizing Johns Hopkins to establish its own police department was before the General Assembly for approval in the spring of this year. It received the support of former Police Commissioner Daryl DeSousa and Mayor Catherine Pugh. Companion bills to approve the proposal were filed in the Senate and the House of Delegates by Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Del. Cheryl Glenn, respectively. After the council passed its resolution opposing the proposal, however, the city’s delegation to the General Assembly withdrew its support for the bills and they died in committee.

The supplemental deployment of officers that is the subject of last week’s letter is modest. It consists of seven officers generally deployed between the hours of 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. in an area of the medical campus bounded by Eager, Broadway, Monument and Caroline Streets. There also are two regularly-assigned officers at Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Johns Hopkins Hospital ER. Those two posts are overtime assignments for which the city is reimbursed by Johns Hopkins.

Why did this nonsense happen?

The ostensible reason for wanting to end the deployment of the additional officers to Johns Hopkins campuses is the general shortage of officers in the city. The council members believe that the officers are more needed somewhere else. Where?

The supplemental deployment was initiated by former commissioner Kevin Davis and continued by former commissioner De Sousa and current interim commissioner Tuggle in response to a perceived need. In his testimony explaining why he believed that Johns Hopkins should establish its own police department, university president Ron Daniels pointed to the upsurge in violent crime in and around the campuses, particularly armed robberies.

One of the most important jobs of the police commissioner is to decide where limited personnel assets are needed most after carefully considering the best information available. If the commissioner isn’t capable of that, who is? The City Council? Can you imagine what would what happen if the decision on where to assign officers was given to any type of committee, much less to a legislative body such as the Baltimore City Council?

In my opinion, it was nothing more than petty politics that derailed the proposal by Johns Hopkins to establish its own police department. Long story short, members of the City Council got their noses out of joint when their blessing was not sought by Johns Hopkins before Johns Hopkins went to members of the General Assembly to seek support for the proposed police department.

There also was the matter of the city’s internal politics. It is hard to overstate the destructiveness of the competing power centers in Baltimore, where a weak mayor is up against a generally-obstreperous council president and young and ambitious council members like Mr. Scott. The contentious situation is producing more heat than light, and the Hopkins proposal went down in flames because of it.

The mayor was not free from fault. When Johns Hopkins went to the mayor to discuss its proposal, it was up to the mayor or one of her highly paid staff members like Chief of Strategic Alliances Jim Smith to help guide Johns Hopkins through the thicket of city politics. The council’s formal approval clearly was not required for the proposal, but if the mayor believed that it was prudent for Johns Hopkins to touch base with members of the council then it was her responsibility to say so.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know the full story. It is always possible that there was something else going on behind the scenes that citizens were not aware of. The fact remains that regardless of any political faux pas the Hopkins proposal never should have been made a political football by the City Council, which is exactly what it became.

What were you thinking, Delegate Glenn?

When Del. Glenn withdrew her support for her own bill she did not give petty politics as the reason. It was worse than that.

“I believe that the way you go about achieving something is very important, and right now this process has not been inclusive of the community at large,” she told the Baltimore Sun, adding:

“There are all kinds of ancillary issues that have been a part of Johns Hopkins University’s history that we would need some assurances as to their appreciation for diversity and how issues of diversity would be addressed.”

Baltimore’s striking history of structural and institutional racism is well-documented, and the effects linger to this day. No reasonable person disputes that, and Johns Hopkins was part of that history.

It was grossly inappropriate, however, for Del. Glenn to cite “all kinds of ancillary issues that have been a part of Johns Hopkins University’s history” as justification for holding the formation of a police department by Johns Hopkins hostage to her demands that the police department be sufficiently diverse – and I am sure she has very specific ideas of how diversity should be achieved.

First, it is insulting for her to imply that in 2018 Johns Hopkins needs to assure her or anyone else that it has an “appreciation for diversity.” Johns Hopkins Medicine has an excellent record when it comes to employing a diverse work force, whatever its history may have been. If Del. Glenn doesn’t trust Forbes’ assessment of that record, she can try blackdoctor.org for verification. Never let the facts get in the way of political rhetoric, I guess.

Second, I have a particular thing right now about the issue of diversity in police forces. If we have learned anything from recent experiences with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), it is that that the quality and integrity of officers matters far more the color of their skin or where they live.

Here is what I would say right now to the folks in charge of recruiting officers to the BPD: Worry less about diversity and more about getting men and women into the department who aren’t going to fly off the handle and beat up citizens who verbally provoke them. I would say the same thing to Johns Hopkins if it had a police department.

I am in favor of diversity and trying to recruit more officers from the city. I am against the idea of elected officials from either the state or the city putting pressure of any sort on a law enforcement agency that results in the relaxation of entrance standards. I would like to believe that Del. Glenn feels the same way, but I am not so sure.

Third, let’s keep in mind that Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine are private institutions. If Del. Glenn believes that private educational and medical institutions need to do more to promote diversity, then pass a law applying to all such institutions. Don’t use a piece of legislation on another topic as an opportunity to extract a commitment from a private institution on how many black employees it will hire.

And here’s what not to do.

City Council Res. No. 18-0073R called for the General Assembly to require that the Johns Hopkins Police Department be approved by ordinance of the City Council to assure proper “oversight” of the department. Based on the track record of the City Council, I can’t think of a worse idea than giving it more agencies to concern itself with. When it comes to trusting someone to stand up and “oversee” a first-class operation, I’ll take Johns Hopkins over the city or state any time.

It is known as looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Of course, there also is the fact a Johns Hopkins Police Department could be a tremendous asset to the city and its citizens. When the proposal was debated in the spring, I suggested that city and state leaders take a field trip to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As it happens, we have a good example right up I-95 of the contributions that the police department of a private university can make both to the institution and the city in which it is located.

The University of Pennsylvania has faced many of the same challenges faced by Johns Hopkins in having facilities located in urban neighborhoods. Its police department, founded about 40 years ago, now has about 120 sworn officers, including 13 detectives. The “Penn patrol zone” policed by the department is roughly 2.5 square miles.

By all reasonable accounts, the University of Pennsylvania Police Department has been an invaluable asset both to the university and Philadelphia. As one might expect in a university environment, it is firmly committed to community-oriented policing.

For ten consecutive years Security Magazine has rated it the best department in nation in the “Education (University)” category. The Security Magazine rankings are a benchmark in the industry and use a series of metrics to measure overall performance. There is no reason that an institution with the resources of Johns Hopkins could not emulate that success.

Baltimore is chronically short of money. Johns Hopkins wants to accept the financial burden of policing a small area of the city in the vicinity of its campuses, but the City Council seems determined to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.  The council’s action feeds the narrative that it is a poor steward of the taxpayers’ money.

The way forward.

I know that members of the City Council hear from the “all police are bad” element of the Woke Left. The number of citizens in the city who generally distrust police and categorically oppose the formation of another police department is not surprising, given the recent history of the BPD. That antipathy, however, cannot be allowed to discourage reasonable approaches to improving the manner in which the city is policed.

There is a form of provincialism peculiar to Baltimore, which I would describe as applying to this situation as follows: We don’t care what works in Philadelphia; this is Baltimore, and we need a “Baltimore” solution. I hate to be the one to bring this up, but Baltimore solutions aren’t working so well right now, and it might be time to look to other cities for proven ideas.

With about 45,000 employees, Johns Hopkins is by far the largest employer in the city, and its importance to Baltimore is inestimable. That does not mean that it does not have to cooperate with the city and abide by its laws. It does mean that the City Council should not go out of its way to jerk it around. I get the distinct impression that some members of the council get a thrill out of flexing their tiny little political muscles and showing such a large and elite institution who’s “boss.”

I trust that Interim Commissioner Tuggle will ignore the letter from the four members of the council and deploy officers as he deems necessary. When a bill to approve the establishment of a police department by Johns Hopkins is introduced in the next session of the General Assembly, the General Assembly should approve it without allowing it to be derailed by considerations that have nothing to do with its merits.

Once given the authority to establish the department, Johns Hopkins can begin working in earnest with the mayor and police commissioner to develop a program that enhances public safety in the city and that also serves the interests of the students, patients and employees of Johns Hopkins.  The City Council should be consulted and its input considered, but otherwise the council should try to stay out of the way.

The blue code of silence is what’s crippling the BPD.

How Baltimore Police handle the second officer involved in the McGrier beating will tell us where the department is really headed [OP-ED]

Getting rid of Officer Arthur Williams was the easy part for the Baltimore Police Department.  The video of his vicious beating of Dashawn McGrier was the single most convincing evidence of police brutality that I have ever seen. Williams resigned because his termination was a foregone conclusion.

It is what the department does with the unnamed officer seen in the video who was with Williams that will tell us much more about the BPD and where it is headed.

And the remarks on Monday about the unnamed officer by Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle got that process off to a bad start.

Enabling Bad Behavior

The number of active wrongdoers in the department is relatively small. The number of enablers, facilitators and legitimizers is not – and that must change very quickly if the department is going to survive.

By active wrongdoers, I mean the officers who actually do the beating, stealing, and lying on court documents. I acknowledge that what constitutes a “relatively small” number of active wrongdoers in a department with about 2,500 sworn officers is open to debate.

The active wrongdoers are the cancer in the department. The enablers, facilitators and legitimizers, however, are what has allowed the cancer to metastasize to a point where the BPD is on life support.

Enabling, facilitating and legitimizing includes standing around and doing or saying nothing while another officer violates the law. That is the issue raised by the conduct of the unnamed officer.

Absent exigent circumstances, police officers have a duty to take reasonable action to prevent or halt the commission of a crime that takes place in their presence when they are on duty.

THE NUMBER OF ACTIVE WRONGDOERS ON THE FORCE IS RELATIVELY SMALL. THE NUMBER OF ENABLERS, FACILITATORS AND LEGITIMIZERS IS NOT.

The duty is imperative when the crime involves potential bodily harm to a victim. The duty goes to the core of what a police officer is and does, and I’ve never heard an officer question it.

For the legal purists, I am not talking about a duty that gives rise to civil liability. I am talking about a duty of employment, the violation of which can and does get police officers fired.

Excessive Force is a Crime

The unnamed officer shown in the video had a duty to take reasonable measures to stop the attack on McGrier once he realized that the punches being thrown by Williams were an excessive use of force.

Did he satisfy that duty? Based on what I have seen and read so far, it is my opinion that he did not.

In fairness to the unnamed officer, he was not facing Williams and McGrier initially and did not see what immediately preceded the first punch. He had other things to consider, including the presence of bystanders.

THE UNNAMED OFFICER SHOWN IN THE VIDEO HAD A DUTY TO TAKE REASONABLE MEASURES TO STOP THE ATTACK.

Turning his back on the bystanders to restrain Williams would have exposed him and Williams to risk, including from McGrier, who could have used the opportunity to punch Williams or try to seize his weapon. And all of this happened in about 10 seconds, so the unnamed officer had little time to react.

The unnamed officer did make what appeared to be half-hearted efforts to intervene. If the investigation reveals that he told Williams to stop, that would not be enough, in my view.

I believe that he should have grabbed Williams and pulled him off McGrier or grabbed McGrier and pulled him away from Williams, even if his action only prevented the last four or five punches from being landed.

If restraining Williams heightened the risk of harm to both officers, then that is a risk that the unnamed officer should have taken to protect McGrier.

A Disappointing Press Conference

At Monday’s press conference, the interim commissioner acknowledged that the unnamed officer had an obligation to protect McGrier from abuse by Williams.

After pointing out that some of the bystanders had sticks in their hands, Tuggle added, “He [the unnamed officer] had an obligation to keep himself safe. That’s hugely important.”

It also was “hugely important” that the unnamed officer protect McGrier from serious injury. I believe that Tuggle’s emphasis on officer safety was intended to curry favor with the rank-and-file, but it sent exactly the wrong message to the public.

TUGGLE’S EMPHASIS ON OFFICER SAFETY SENT EXACTLY THE WRONG MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC.

Here is better message, and a standard that I suggest that the BPD adopt: An officer must accept the same level of risk in protecting a citizen from another officer as he or she would accept in protecting another officer from a citizen.

Would the unnamed officer have intervened more aggressively if the roles of Williams and McGrier had been reversed, with McGrier as the puncher and Williams as the punching bag?  What do you think?

Furthermore, I believe that if Williams knew that his partner was going to have to jump in to stop him (and then report him), he would have thought twice before beating up McGrier.

Not everyone will agree with my opinion, including most police officers. But without a paradigm shift in the attitudes of its officers the BPD is never going to regain the trust of citizens convinced that its officers give little priority to their safety or civil rights.

If the department stays on its current course, policing the city will get harder and more dangerous and the collective risk to all officers will increase. There is an element of self-interest in reducing the antipathy toward the department.

An unsettlingly common sentiment in Baltimore is that “all cops are bad.” Think about how the narrative about this incident would have changed had the unnamed officer stopped the attack on McGrier.

It would have been taken as a sign of progress. Instead, there is nothing on the video to indicate that the BPD has made any progress at all.
_______________________
David A. Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County Attorney in 2014 after 31 years in the County Office of Law. His work included defending police officers in civil cases and advising on police disciplinary matters. He also served as a prosecutor in the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Office.

[Published as guest commentary by the Baltimore Brew on August 15, 2018 but not posted to my blog until October 25, 2018.  The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]

Opinion: No Way to Select Our Judges.

By David A. Plymyer

Guest Commentary

August 7, 2018

Democracy can be messy, but Maryland’s method of selecting circuit court judges is unnecessarily so. The process also is largely dysfunctional. The controversial, albeit successful, campaign run this year by Judge Mark Crooks of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is a case in point.

Judges are appointed to the circuit court by the governor from a list of applicants screened by the judicial nominating commission for that judicial circuit. Once a judge is appointed, the judge must stand for election to secure a full 15-year term. Unlike district and appellate court judges, circuit court judges run in contested elections rather than in “retention” elections in which no other candidates appear on the ballot.

Crooks is a Republican and was serving as Gov. Larry Hogan’s deputy legal counsel when the governor appointed him to a newly-created seat on the circuit court in November 2016. Crooks was required by the Maryland Constitution to run for election this year to stay on the bench.

This year’s circuit court race was unusually partisan, perhaps because it coincided with a gubernatorial election. Crooks had the active support of the Republican establishment, including the governor and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh.

That partisanship first tripped up Crooks in May 2017 when he appeared to endorse Republican county council candidate Nathan Volke.   The flier for a campaign event for Volke stated that Crooks and Register of Wills Lauren Parker “cordially invite you to a happy hour reception supporting Nathan E. Volke.”

Under the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct, circuit court judges running for election may attend fundraisers and other events for candidates for non-judicial offices but may not publicly endorse them. Crooks stated that he was unaware of and had not approved the flier. The judicial code of conduct generally requires a candidate to “act at all times in a manner consistent with the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office.” It is a worthy standard, sometimes honored in the breach.

The Volke flier dust-up was nothing compared to one that occurred in September 2017 when Crooks attended a fundraiser for Roy Moore in Severna Park. The notorious former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court was running for the United States Senate at the time. Crooks later claimed that he was unaware of Moore’s background before attending the fundraiser.

Judge Crooks told The Arundel Patriot that “I didn’t do my homework to know what he was all about, even remotely.”  Crooks’ plea of ignorance was not universally accepted.

Moore was removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order instructing him to take down a monument to the Ten Commandants that he had installed in the state judiciary building.  The people of Alabama again elected Moore chief justice 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 decision of the United States Supreme Court compelling states to recognize same-sex marriages. Both acts of defiance of federal law were widely reported by the national media.

In a 2005 interview, Moore stated that homosexual conduct should be illegal. He wrote in a 2006 column that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress because of their faith. In other words, by the time he announced his run for the Senate in April 2017 Moore had gained quite a reputation.

Moore’s close ties to the League of the South, which is based in Alabama and generally considered to be a white nationalist organization, touched a raw nerve in Anne Arundel County.  About 30 percent of the people in Anne Arundel County identify themselves as black, Hispanic, Latino or Asian. All 17 judges and magistrates on the circuit court are lily-white.

I tend to agree with the comment made by the editorial board of the Annapolis Capital:  Although the fundraiser that Crooks attended for Moore took place before Moore’s sexual predations became general knowledge, “Moore [had] been a polarizing figure for two decades and anyone who attended should have realized their appearance would be controversial.”

I wrote a guest column for The Capital in which I stated that a sitting judge who attended a fundraiser for a former chief justice of a state supreme court who had been openly contemptuous of the rule of law while in office should not retain his seat. The reaction was swift and predictable.

There never is a shortage of practicing lawyers willing to write letters to the editor in support of a sitting judge before whom they appear, and such was the case for Judge Crooks. Some of the letter writers were sincere; some undoubtedly were not and were completely self-serving. This is another unbecoming aspect of judicial elections. To me, it seems rather like the members of President Trump’s cabinet singing his praises on “Fox & Friends.”

I was accused of being too harsh on Crooks, among other things. I admit that my column was tough on him. Based on what is going on with the Trump administration, however, I have developed zero tolerance not only for the public officials who violate the rule of law but also for other public officials who enable or legitimize them. That goes double for judges.

The tenor of the letters to the editor responding to my guest column and defending Judge Crooks paled in comparison to the emails that I received from Bruce Bereano, the prominent and hard-charging Annapolis lobbyist whom I have known for about 40 years. He informed me that he was helping Crooks with the election and “urged him to go to all political events.”

Bereano stated that Crooks was unaware of Moore’s background and “at worst an innocent and unintended mistake was made.” Bereano also saw fit to tell me what he thought of me: “You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself and I know from talking to people in the community, you have damaged your reputation and people have less respect for you, if any at all.” He added in a second email: “You have lost a lot of friends in the community. You should hear people talking about you as I have.  I am done with you.”

That is what hardball partisan politics looks like. I am not sure that it is what a judicial election should look like.  Bereano was disbarred from the practice of law in Maryland in 2000 following a federal mail fraud conviction. He did nothing wrong by offering his services to Judge Crooks and, to my knowledge, Crooks violated no specific rule by accepting them.  In my opinion, however, a sitting judge should not get help with his campaign from a disbarred lawyer when running for judicial office. By doing so, Crooks created another unfortunate appearance that he would have been better off without. Judge Crooks may have prevailed, but his campaign left a sour taste in the mouths of many Anne Arundel County voters.

•  •

Whether voting in a contested election or a retention election in Maryland, voters must make decisions whether sitting judges should be kept on the bench. If you thought that the judiciary therefore would want to make sure that voters have the information necessary to make informed decisions, you’d be wrong.

In a state in which openness, transparency and accountability in government is given a low priority, the judicial branch is no exception. Unlike many states, Maryland has no formal program for evaluating judicial performance.

In 1998, a select committee of Maryland judges and lawyers recommended that the state adopt a mandatory evaluation program run by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The proposal went nowhere then and is no closer to being implemented now.

The lack of a program for evaluating judicial performance in Maryland is disgraceful.  And, if you are interested in the criminal sentences imposed by circuit court judges, forget about any easy way to find out the sentencing patterns of individual judges. Although the information is collected by the Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, it is not made available to the public or the media in a searchable database.

Consequently, voters are left to glean information as best they can. Judicial candidate forums are practically useless because candidates are restricted by the code of conduct mentioned above both from discussing their views on matters that could come before them and from making promises about positions on issues that could compromise their impartiality on matters that may come before them.

There must be a better way to select circuit court judges. Everyone has their ideas, and here is mine: Adopt a program of judicial performance evaluation and make the results public. It has proven to be an uphill battle to amend the constitution to eliminate contested elections, so just tweak the constitution to add another two years to the time when a judge appointed by the governor must stand for election.

The change would allow voters to consider a judge’s performance evaluations over the course of three or four years on the bench before deciding for whom to vote. And it would allow sitting judges to run on their records rather than glad-hand voters at fundraisers for disgraced former state supreme court justices.

— David A. Plymyer David A. Plymyer is a former county attorney in Anne Arundel County.  He can be reached at dplymyer@comcast.net. Twitter: @dplymyer

[Published as guest commentary by Maryland Matters on August 7, 2018 but not posted to my blog until October 25, 2018.  The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]