Rodricks: Old-school attitudes on the bench catch up to Judge Lamdin

Back in the day, when newspaper reporters covered the District Courts of Maryland on a regular basis, we knew two kinds of judges — the ones who worked as fast and as dutifully as possible to clear their dockets and get to the golf course, and the ones who cracked jokes or made what today would be considered inappropriate remarks. The latter were memorable.

"What're you, a mental case?" a judge asked an obviously disturbed defendant in the old District Court in South Baltimore in 1978. The defendant had put his fist through the plate glass window of a barroom. "What're you, a mental case?" was an old-school judge's way of asking if the defendant should have a psychiatric exam.

"Why do I get all the nuts?" another judge moaned aloud one morning.

It would be considered insensitive for judges to say those things today.

Over the years, I heard judges make cracks about the appearances of defendants — their clothing, their hair — and the way they spoke.

Some remarks were clearly sexist, and some people might have complained about them to the Commission on Judicial Disabilities. But nothing ever happened back in the day. (In the 1980s, the chief judge of the District Court told me it was nearly impossible to have his worst judge — a nasty alcoholic who provoked the most complaints — removed from the bench.)

The late Robert H. Gerstung was probably the most quotable of the Baltimore District Court judges of that bygone era.

To a man who, on the day he was scheduled to move out of town, heaved a trash can through his neighbor's front window, igniting a huge brawl: "Sir, you don't spit in the crocodile's eye till you cross the river."

Gerstung sent a defendant to the lockup so that he could "have lunch with us today; I think the chef is serving a nice filet."

Before sentencing a fellow who'd started a fight in the old Hammerjack's night club, he said: "Next time, pick a place that has a four-star rating for food, not fights."

Gerstung was smart and skilled in pithy judicial commentary. He knew how to be sarcastic without saying the thing that would end his career. In fact, he was a regular feature of "Baby Judge School," the judiciary's education program for new judges, and he delivered a lecture titled, "I Wish I Hadn't Said That."

Gerstung died in 1994.

So Bruce Lamdin never got to hear the lecture — and he evidently never took seriously similar warnings, assuming they were rendered, when he went on the Baltimore County bench 10 years ago.

Lamdin loves golf. Had he spent more time focused on his docket so he could go golfing, and less time bullying people in his courtroom, he might still have a career today.

Instead, he's retiring at 64 under a cloud.

He had a habit of uttering things that angered, outraged and embarrassed the public and members of the bar.

And this time, people complained. This time, the CJD took the matter seriously and accused Lamdin of violating the judicial code of conduct.

Some of Lamdin's statements were reported in the City Paper in 2007, based on a CJD report.

To a defendant in Towson: "If there is a pile of s---, you'll step in it." Then, to the gallery: "Is he one of the biggest dumb asses I've ever seen?"

To a woman who left the courtroom with a crying baby: "If she only knew how much I hate kids, she would not have brought that kid in here today."

At another point, Lamdin pointed out that confiscated cellphones are placed in plastic bags, adding that "maybe we ought to do the same thing with children except poke holes in the bag."

He used a slang term for oral sex in sentencing a woman on prostitution charges.

According to the City Paper, Lamdin lashed out at a defendant who, in asking for a postponement of her case, used the incendiary phrase, "Your honor, with all due respect." Lamdin snapped back: "Ma'am, don't say 'with all due respect' because to me that means, 'Judge, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.'"

Lamdin suggested to a defendant charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and driving without a license that he was guilty of other crimes: "Why did you drive so poorly? Smoke a little weed before you got behind the wheel? Smoke a little crack before you got behind the wheel? ... All right, crack-head ..."

Remarkably, the CJD actually listened to audio recordings of some nine months of proceedings over which Lamdin presided. In 2008, he was suspended for a month without pay, then given a second chance.

But, like so many of the defendants who violate their probation, Lamdin blew his second chance. This time, someone called him out for a series of insensitive remarks that brought a victim of domestic violence to tears.

So, with all due respect: Good bye, good golfing and good riddance.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

 
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