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With one penalty pending, Baltimore judge again faces discipline hearing

A Baltimore judge faced disciplinary proceedings for the second time in less than a year as a hearing opened Monday before the state’s Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell is accused of violating the state’s rules of judicial conduct. The commission’s investigative attorneys allege she used her influence as a judge to try to embarrass a colleague, Judge Catherine “Katie” Curran O’Malley.

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Russell, a district judge since 2006, has long disliked O’Malley, two other judges testified on Monday.

Russell faces a six-month suspension from an earlier case, in which the commission found she yelled at other judges and staffers, pushed a courthouse employee and neglected search-warrant paperwork.

The commission recommended the suspension in November, finding that her behavior and comments “were undignified, uncooperative, discourteous, demeaning, and clearly demonstrate a pattern of serious violations of the Maryland Code.” But it’s up to the Maryland Court of Appeals to decide whether to impose the suspension — and the court has not yet ruled.

At issue this time is an incident that happened in O’Malley’s courtroom in January 2015.

Investigative attorneys say Russell spread a rumor that that O’Malley had used profanity toward a citizen in the courtroom, telling others at the courthouse that O’Malley used “the F-bomb.” They alleged that Russell tried to influence bailiffs to change a report about the incident.

Russell’s alleged conduct, investigative attorney Tanya C. Bernstein said at the hearing, “demonstrates a lack of respect for the office she holds.” Russell is accused of breaking rules about promoting confidence in the judiciary, cooperating with other judges and avoiding using the prestige of office for personal interest.

Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan, Jr., emphasized she never leaked any information to the news media about the incident and said there would be no testimony that Russell instructed a bailiff what to write in the report. ­

Throughout the hearing, Brennan objected to testimony about Russell’s opinion of O’Malley, saying it set a dangerous precedent if a judge’s private comments could rise to a “level of sanctionable conduct.”

“That’s a horrible precedent to set for the judges of this state,” he said.

The commission heard Monday from witnesses including Judge Barbara B. Waxman, the administrative judge for Baltimore City District Court. Waxman said Russell’s dislike of O’Malley was common knowledge.

In January 2015, Russell reported to Waxman that O’Malley “used the F-word in court,” Waxman testified.

Waxman obtained a recording of the hearing and determined that a citizen in the courtroom — upset with the case’s outcome — had cursed at O’Malley, who repeated the comments back. Waxman said she concluded that O’Malley did nothing wrong, and had repeated the profanity because she was “protecting the record.”

Brennan said Russell mentioned the incident because Waxman had directed all judges to give her a “heads up” about anything that might cause controversy.

While Waxman considered the matter closed, Russell was still talking about it months later, Bernstein said.

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Judge Joan Bossmann Gordon, another district court judge, said that in early 2015, Russell approached her in the hallway and said, “Guess who’s going to get in trouble?”

“She said it in a sing-songy way,” she said.

Russell “did not like Judge O’Malley at all,” Gordon said, adding that Russell had once sent her an email or text message calling Waxman “Katie’s puppet.”

The commission also heard from Nella Altadonna, the supervising bailiff at the Eastside District Court Building. Altadonna testified that in March 2015, Russell came to her office to talk about a retirement party for another bailiff, but then changed the subject to the incident in O’Malley’s courtroom.

Altadonna said that Russell asked for the incident report and then asked why the profanity wasn’t included in the document. Altadonna called the bailiff who wrote the report to her office.The bailiff updated the report to include the profanity.

“The judge asked for something,” Altadonna said. “We complied.”

As Brennan cross-examined Altadonna, she acknowledged that she couldn’t remember all the details of what happened four years ago.

The bailiff who wrote the report is expected to be called as a witness at a future hearing.

The disciplinary proceedings continue August 5.

Russell has been hearing cases in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties as she awaits the ruling about her suspension from the Court of Appeals.

She faced public criticism recently after it came to light this spring that in February, she denied a peace order sought by Tyrique Hudson, 22, against Hudson’s neighbor, James Allan Verombeck, saying the petition didn’t meet the burden of proof.

In April, Hudson was found fatally shot in the stairwell of his apartment building, and Verombeck, 53, is charged with his murder.

Russell declined to comment on that case.

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