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Judge changes his mind, finds dentist not guilty


Reversing his own verdict yesterday, a Baltimore County judge found a 66-year-old orthodontist not guilty of battery of a teen-age girl who testified that the man had tried to pull her into his car last June.

The unusual move by Judge Thomas J. Bollinger resulted from his own comments in January, when he presided over the nonjury trial of Dr. Edgar Sweren on charges that included attempted kidnapping. He found the orthodontist guilty then only of battery -- an unlawful touching.

In delivering his verdict Jan. 17, Judge Bollinger said the battery "might have been unintended, it might have been slight, which I believe, I find factually it was."

Defense attorney Richard M. Karceski seized upon the judge's comment that the touching was "unintended" and argued successfully for a new trial, then for acquittal when the case was reopened yesterday with new legal arguments but no new testimony.

Judge Bollinger drew heated criticism and a reprimand from the Judicial Disabilities Commission for comments made in 1993 in sentencing a man who raped an intoxicated 18-year-old employee. The commission said the comments appeared "insensitive to women's rights and the obligation of the judicial system to afford women the protection of the law by punishing men who commit sexual offenses against them."

In the January trial, 15-year-old Shannon Butler of Dundalk testified that she was walking last June 27 through the Eastpoint Office Park lot, where the doctor has an office, when a man claiming to be a photographer asked her to model for him, trying to induce her to get into his car.

She said she gave the man a phony telephone number and turned to leave, when he grabbed her arm.

She fled to a nearby beauty salon where she called her mother and the police -- providing the officers with the license plate number that she had written on her hand.

Police traced the tag to Dr. Sweren, of Caveswood Lane in Owings Mills, and he was arrested.

Dr. Sweren testified that the girl approached him, saying she had spent all her money and asking for a ride home, and that he gave her $5. He denied touching her.

The orthodontist, who had no criminal record, also is a professor at the University of Maryland dental school, according to his lawyer. The character witnesses called in Dr. Sweren's defense included several young, female patients.

Judge Bollinger said in his January verdict that he found both "to be somewhat credible in some spots and somewhat not credible in other spots."

But the key to his decision yesterday was the argument of Mr. Karceski that the law on battery requires intent -- and according to the trial transcript, Judge Bollinger had labeled the alleged contact unintended.

The judge also had said, "We have an orthodontic surgeon here, he's been operating with his hands many, many years, he has got very, very strong hands. If he really wanted to grab hold of her, she wasn't going anywhere."

Still, Judge Bollinger said it was clear from various witnesses' testimony that "something made her extremely upset and I believe her testimony that when she was reached out and touched is what made her upset. The verdict is guilty as to battery."

Assistant State's Attorney Stephen R. Roscher argued unsuccessfully yesterday that the act of reaching out for the girl had to be intentional.

Dr. Sweren declined comment yesterday on the advice of Mr. Karceski, who told Judge Bollinger his client had been proven guilty only of "bad judgment."

Shannon Butler, who appeared in court with her family, was calm after the second verdict by Judge Bollinger. "I'm glad I did it," she said of pursuing the case, "but I guess the judge just didn't believe my side."

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