Faced with allegations that he made inappropriate remarks and offered unwelcome attention to several women in the courthouse, John S. Landbeck Jr., administrative judge of Harford County District Court, said yesterday that he would not seek another 10-year term on the bench.
Judge Landbeck, 53, said he will withdraw his name from consideration for a second term. A Senate committee had scheduled a hearing Monday to consider the reconfirmation, but it was postponed after the allegations surfaced.
Judge Landbeck confirmed that he met Monday with Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County state's attorney; Lloyd G. Merriam, chief public defender in Harford; and Sen. David R. Craig, R-Harford, to discuss the allegations. He said Mr. Cassilly asked him to step down from his $84,800-a-year job.
The judge said he refused to do so, even after Mr. Cassilly told him that the renomination process was "going to be worse than John Arnick's hearing was."
Democratic Del. John S. Arnick, of Baltimore County's 7th Legislative District, was forced to withdraw as a nominee for a judgeship in 1993 amid allegations that he made vulgar and sexist comments about women.
Teri Garland, a Harford assistant state's attorney, said yesterday that she and up to 10 other people, mostly women, were willing to testify before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee in opposition to Judge Landbeck's reconfirmation.
Three sources who said they had firsthand knowledge of Judge Landbeck's conduct alleged that he had made off-color remarks in open court and paid "unwelcome attention" to women. Other sources said that once they learned of Judge Landbeck's alleged inappropriate behavior, they interviewed several people who directly experienced the behavior and had planned to testify.
Another complaint involved allegations that Judge Landbeck was insensitive to victims of domestic violence, sources said.
Mr. Cassilly informed the Senate committee in a letter Monday that he intended to testify against Judge Landbeck. "Based on information from a number of sources, I didn't feel Judge Landbeck's reconfirmation . . . was appropriate," the prosecutor said.
Judge Landbeck declined yesterday to address most allegations involving complaints from women. He said he decided to step down because he did not want to subject himself or his family to a difficult renomination process.
"I just don't want to put my whole being through this mess, and that's what it would be," he said. "It's impossible for me to adequately defend myself because of other people's perceptions of various incidents."
The judge acknowledged making one remark in court about a year ago that a public defender, Maria Caruso, considered offensive.
A local attorney, who asked not to be identified, said Ms. Caruso told him and many others that she had walked into Judge Landbeck's courtroom at that time and the judge said, "Here's Maria Caruso from the pubic defender's office."
"That happened," Judge Landbeck said yesterday. "It was a Freudian slip, completely unintentional. . . . It was not malicious at all."
He said he thought others in the courtroom, including Ms. Caruso, considered the remark "funny," so he repeated it. Ms. Caruso declined to comment.
Robert F. Sweeney, chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, said he discussed allegations against Judge Landbeck at a meeting Tuesday with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; Sen. Larry Young, chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee; Senator Craig; and Sen. William Amoss, D-Harford.
Judge Sweeney said he met with Judge Landbeck and his wife Tuesday night to discuss the allegations and how they would be handled before the Senate committee. He said Judge Landbeck told him then of his decision to step down.
Judge Sweeney said he did not encourage Judge Landbeck to do so.
The chief judge said he also called Gail Bair, a clerk in Judge Landbeck's office who was said to be one of the women offended by the judge's behavior, yesterday to express his "regret" that she had been subjected to alleged unwelcome attention.
He declined to discuss the specific allegations involving Ms. Bair. But several other sources who talked to Ms. Bair said Judge Landbeck allegedly touched her on the arm or back on some occasions -- and that Ms. Bair considered the touching inappropriate. Efforts to reach Ms. Bair were unsuccessful.
Judge Landbeck denied yesterday that he had ever been insensitive to domestic violence victims. He said he recently instituted a 24-hour hot line so judges could respond to urgent domestic violence matters.
Judge Sweeney said Judge Landbeck was the only administrative judge in the state's district court system to ask that one day a week be set aside specifically to hear domestic violence cases. The chief judge also said neither the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities nor the state Committee on Gender Equality had records of complaints against Judge Landbeck.
Judge Sweeney said Judge Landbeck will continue on the bench until the end of his term, at the end of the General Assembly session, and a replacement will be appointed by the governor.
Senator Craig, a member of the Executive Nominations Committee, said he was confident Judge Landbeck made the "best personal decision for himself and for the people involved." He said he felt the judge was treated unfairly.
"I don't think the threat of this happening was fair to any judge," said Senator Craig. "The legislature needs to have a fair process for people to air their grievances ahead of time."