Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger refused to begin a nine-week sexual assault sensitivity training program yesterday as scheduled, saying the program wasn't the one to which he had agreed.
The judge -- whose sympathetic comments and light sentence for a 44-year-old man convicted of raping an 18-year-old employee drew a storm of protest in April -- said he wanted to resolve questions about the content of the course and await the outcome of an inquiry by the state's Judicial Disabilities Commission before starting the program.
Maryland's Select Committee on Gender Equality, which designed the course, issued a statement saying that it was "disappointed" by what it considered to be Judge Bollinger's "refusal" to participate. It is now recommending that the Judicial Disabilities Commission conduct a "full and thorough investigation" of the sentencing.
Judge Bollinger, whose original agreement to go through the sensitivity program appeared to defuse much of the controversy surrounding the sentencing, denied in a written statement yesterday that he has refused to participate in such a program. He said he merely wanted to defer the start of the course.
He said his decision arose from the frustrated attempts of fellow county Judge John Grason Turnbull II and five other judges to participate with him in the training program, which had been viewed as a model for sensitizing judges to issues involved in rape trials.
The gender equality committee denied Judge Turnbull's request July 13 on the basis that rape victims and their families had agreed to participate and meet with one person only, and that the experts who created the pilot program designed it specifically for Judge Bollinger.
The denial prompted a sharp response from Judge Turnbull, and on July 14 Judge Bollinger wrote to the committee asking for a delay. In that letter, he objected to the committee's assertion that the course was designed specifically for him. He said that meant the course was different from the one he agreed to take.
The gender equality committee said it would conduct a program for other judges later.
Susan Carol Elgin, a Towson attorney serving as a spokeswoman for the committee, said the first course would include elements specific to Judge Bollinger's case, including "one-on-one" encounters with rape victims.
"It was not a slide show," she said. "Our experts said it's better one-on-one.
Ms. Elgin said the select committee will request an investigation by the state Judicial Disabilities Commission of Judge Bollinger's comments at the April 22 sentencing.
The commission chairman, Judge Theodore G. Bloom of the Court of Special Appeals, said yesterday that, although the commission never comments on its cases, "in this case, it is a well-known fact that there are a lot of complaints."
State Sen. Janice Piccinini, a Baltimore County Democrat, who filed one of those complaints, said yesterday that the Judicial Disabilities Commission would hold a hearing on Judge Bollinger's actions by the end of this month. She also said she was told that the commission would issue a public statement when its work was finished.
Judge Bloom would not say whether Judge Bollinger's refusal to participate in the training program would affect the inquiry.
The case that sparked the incident occurred in August 1992, when Lawrence Allen Gillette, 44, a movie theater manager from Towson who often drank with his teen-age employees, took a few of them home after a bout of drinking at local nightspot.
The 18-year-old victim drank so much that she vomited and lay down on Gillette's bed in a semiconscious condition.
Gillette testified that she responded favorably to his advances and that they had sex. She testified that she was unconscious during most of the night, awakening only briefly during the attack before slipping into unconsciousness.
She awoke naked in Gillette's bed and subsequently filed charges. When a jury convicted Gillette of second-degree rape, with a maximum 20-year penalty, prosecutor Stephen Bailey asked for jail time.
Instead, Judge Bollinger granted Gillette probation before judgment, on condition that he remain in home detention for six months except for work, church, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, counseling and shopping. He ordered Gillette to pay for the victim's therapy, gave him 18 months probation, charged him $650 in court costs and ordered 200 hours of community service.
The controversy arose after reports of Judge Bollinger's comments indicating sympathy for the defendant and his predicament as a male, for whom being drunk is not a defense. Whereas the woman's drunkenness to the point of unconsciousness was a vital element in the crime, the judge noted. Under Maryland law, having sex with an unconscious woman is rape.
The judge referred to the crime as "date rape" during the proceedings, a point strongly objected to by Mr. Bailey, the prosecutor, who characterized the incident as an attack on a helpless woman.
The judge also said the victim "facilitated" the rape, which has led critics to say he was blaming the victim.