Letter: Time to shed some light on the judiciary

February 28, 2020

To the Editors:
Regarding “Editorial Advisory Board: Reject the Judicial Transparency Act” (Feb. 24, 2020):

The opposition of The Daily Record’s Editorial Advisory Board to the so-called Judicial Transparency Act proposed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan faithfully reflects the customary attitude of Maryland’s judicial and legal establishment toward transparency and accountability in government. That attitude is that those concepts are fine for the executive and legislative branches of government, but not for the judiciary.

The act would require the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing to compile detailed information on criminal sentences that would be contained in an annual report to the General Assembly and made available to any person who requested it. The required information includes the reasons given for any departure by a judge from the commission’s sentencing guidelines. It is worth noting that all of the information within the scope of the act already exists but is not collated in a manner that makes it accessible by the public.

The principal objection by the board appears to be that the sentencing patterns and practices of individual judges would be disclosed to the public. The board expressed its concern that such information “can be very misleading if not carefully read and understood” and could be “misused for election purposes and reappointment purposes.” In other words, neither voters nor governors can be trusted to thoughtfully consider the information and put it in proper context. I suspect that the board doesn’t even realize how arrogant and condescending that sounds.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously said that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” But apparently not for the judiciary, for which, according to this paper’s Editorial Advisory Board, it acts as a toxin causing “misunderstanding and mischief.” The board’s editorial is not only wrong, it is insulting.

David A. Plymyer

David A. Plymyer retired as the Anne Arundel county attorney in 2014.

[Published as a letter to the editor by The Daily Record on February 28, 2020 but not posted to my blog until December 17, 2020. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]