Facing possible expulsion from bench, Baltimore Chief Judge Alfred Nance steps down

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Chief Circuit Judge Alfred Nance stepped down Friday, before Maryland’s highest court could decide whether to expel him after his two decades on the bench.

Nance had submitted his retirement, effective Friday, to Gov. Larry Hogan, said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor.

Nance, 69, also sent an email Friday to Baltimore judges, which read in its entirety: “It truly has been my honor. Best wishes,” according to two people who saw it but did not want to be identified.

The Maryland Court of Appeals was to decide whether Nance should be punished for remarks he made during criminal trials two years ago. The state Commission on Judicial Disabilities found in October that Nance made disparaging and demeaning comments that undermined the integrity of the court, and the panel voted unanimously to recommend the state’s high court strip Nance of his elected post just months before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“A public reprimand or suspension is not commensurate with the serious violation of misconduct in office committed by Judge Nance,” the commission wrote, calling for “the strongest possible sanction.”

Nance’s attorney, William Brennan Jr., declined to comment Friday. The judge did not return a message sent through Brennan.

Nance had been charged with breaking state laws that require judges to maintain fairness and decorum and conduct themselves in a manner to promote confidence in the courts.

The case before the judicial oversight panel centered on Nance’s encounters with Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi, whom prosecutors said Nance dismissively referred to as “lady,” “mother hen” and “child.” They said Nance once told Levi to “shut up” and threatened to throw her in jail. She filed a complaint against Nance with the commission.

Levi declined to comment Friday on the judge’s retirement.

During a four-day hearing in Annapolis in September, Brennan defended Nance by saying that the judge might be demanding but that presiding over a courtroom isn’t a popularity contest.

“Judge Nance is old-school,” Brennan told the commission. “Judge Nance is formal. Judge Nance is stern.”

During the hearing, attorneys Jane McGough, Margaret Mead and Michael Lawlor, who were called by Brennan as character witnesses, described the judge as strict but respectful.

Still, the commission found Nance made comments in two 2015 cases that were “undignified, condescending, and unprofessional.” The members said his “facial expressions, tone of voice and body language” were “gratuitous, insensitive, inflammatory and relentless.”

Prosecutors played hours of courtroom video from Nance’s cases during the hearing. They described a pattern of behavior by the judge that they said belittled those in his courtroom.

The commission found that Nance told one defendant: “If you want to play with yourself, wait until you get back to your cell.” The commission found Nance also told the man, “If your tinkle come up dirty, you will be violated.”

It marked at least the third time Nance had appeared before the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

Nance previously received a public reprimand in 2001 after female prosecutors complained that he had an explosive temper and commented on their appearance. In 2004, the commission dismissed other charges of misconduct brought against him.

The judge built a reputation as a stern and demanding presence in the courtroom, one with little patience for those who wasted time or arrived to court late, or were unprepared or casually dressed. His critics, however, accused Nance of going too far and bullying both defendants and attorneys.

Nance served as a public defender and private attorney before joining the bench in 1998. He earned a salary of $154,000.

Had Nance been expelled, he would have been the first since 1984, when Stanley Bennett was kicked off the bench, said a spokesman for the state judiciary. A Frederick District Court judge, Bennett was stripped of office for forging the signature of another judge to clean up the driving record of a political donor’s grandson.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°