Investigating Judge Bollinger


The Maryland Bar Association's Committee on Gender Equality meets this week to report on its review of "the Bollinger affair." We assume it will ask the Commission on Judicial Disabilities to investigate Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Bollinger. He recently gave a man convicted of second-degree rape probation before verdict. He accompanied this extraordinarily light sentence for such a crime with remarks that also raise questions about his judicial temperament.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities is required by law to investigate complaints it does not deem "frivolous." We assume the commission would not consider such a complaint from such a source frivolous. We assume an investigation will be forthcoming, if it hasn't already begun in response to other complaints about this case. We have to assume, because by law the commission's activities are confidential.

For that reason, the Bar Association committee ought to consider making any complaint detailed and public. This is a situation in which the public has a pressing interest in knowing exactly what the lawyerly case against the judge is.

The Sun said of Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger last year that he was "well respected in judicial and legal circles" and that he "deserve[d] to be retained" on the bench. Now we are not so sure. Here's what concerns us:

1. Judge Bollinger seemed to show contempt for the state's sentencing guidelines. The guidelines say that in this case the man convicted of rape in the second degree should have been sentenced to at least four years. Now many judges ignore the guidelines in sentencing. But we are not aware of a case in which a rapist was given a sentence so far below the minimum recommended.

2. Judge Bollinger seems to be contemptuous of the state's sexual offenses law. Judges are supposed to enforce laws whether they like them or not. "The law stinks" the defense attorney said, and Judge Bollinger indicated agreement. The judge also said, "I don't think the legislature knew what it was doing."

3. Judge Bollinger also said this sort of crime should be a misdemeanor rather than a felony and equated it to a woman's leaving her pocketbook on a park bench from which it was then stolen. This and other public remarks the judge made about the case seem to show contempt for women.

Contempt for the guidelines, contempt for the law, contempt for women? That's the way it looks to a substantial number of Marylanders. Maybe that's a distortion of Judge Bollinger's views. Maybe all this doesn't add up to a violation of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct anyway. But one thing is clear, this is not a case that can be worked out behind closed doors, then forgotten. There are good reasons why some complaints against judges are treated by the responsible authorities with confidentiality, but these complaints are not in that category.

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