A Baltimore County judge faces an unprecedented public hearing on charges of improper conduct for his comments in sentencing a trucker to 18 months on work release for killing an unfaithful wife.
The recently revamped Commission on Judicial Disabilities has scheduled an Oct. 30 hearing for Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr., with the charges to be prosecuted by its new investigative counsel.
The sentence and Judge Cahill's remarks prompted an uproar that focused attention on the little-known commission on judicial conduct, including criticism for its secrecy and lack of action. New rules established by the Court of Appeals took effect July 1, making the commission's work more public and giving it a staff.
The commission included in its complaint this much-quoted comment by Judge Cahill: "I seriously wonder how many married men, married five years or four years would have the strength to walk away, but without inflicting some corporal punishment."
Judge Cahill was informed in a notice from the commission that its preliminary investigation turned up probable cause that he had "committed sanctionable conduct."
"This is untrodden ground," said Robert E. Cahill Jr. who, with veteran attorney H. Russell Smouse, will represent his father at the hearing.
They provided a copy of the judge's written response to the charges, which heavily criticizes the news media and emphasizes a long-standing policy that isolated comments should not be singled out from a judge's overall conduct.
The lawyers said Judge Cahill would have nothing else to say for now. The judge is on vacation this week but has maintained a steady work schedule since the national uproar over his Oct. 17 sentencing of Kenneth L. Peacock, who shot his wife several hours after coming home to find her in bed with another man.
In a plea bargain, Peacock pleaded guilty to manslaughter, which carries sentencing guidelines of three to eight years.
The commission singled out three other passages from the transcript of Judge Cahill's sentencing, in which he:
* Expressed difficulty in "sentencing noncriminals as criminals." This comment, "in a case where the defendant had shot and killed his wife shows a disrespect and refusal to acknowledge the law," the commission said.
* Commented that without a group such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers present, "I get the benefit of, in effect, sentencing in anonymity," and, "The chances are, this case will not even be written up." These remarks give the appearance that he would be improperly affected by public opinion, the commission said.
* Said, "I cannot think of a circumstance whereby personal rage is uncontrollable greater than this for someone who is happily married." The commission said the statement appeared "to excuse male violent behavior against a female, manifesting a perceptual sex [gender] prejudice."
The commission said the comments violate the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to avoid the appearance of impropriety, failing to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, and manifesting an apparent bias or prejudice on gender in the use of words.
Judge Cahill's attorneys noted in his response that it was prosecutors who chose not to pursue murder charges and who said the victim's mother understood how her son-in-law might have been provoked.
The judge never said that he condoned or understood the violence, or that a man should be excused from killing his wife after finding her having intercourse with another man, they said.
"These words are, however, verbatim the words reporters, editorialists and others unfairly accused Judge Cahill of using," they said.
"Unfortunately, reporters and editorial writers from The Sun and other publications, and then the television news organizations, saw fit to adopt and continue to perpetrate the incorrect account of what was actually said, and to inject all manner of additional 'spins' into the words that were actually spoken when Judge Cahill imposed sentence.
"By the time all was said and done, the press had unfairly #F portrayed Judge Cahill as the personification of everything that is allegedly 'wrong' with the judiciary -- in Baltimore County and across the country."
A fair review of "the sixteen sentences extracted from Judge Cahill's extemporaneous, ten-page explanation" will show, they said, "that nothing he said amounts to sanctionable conduct under the Maryland Rules. . . . These charges should be dismissed."
Christopher J. Romano, who was named investigative counsel to the seven-member commission after its preliminary investigation and will prosecute the case, said it could take no action against Judge Cahill, issue a public reprimand or recommend to the Court of Appeals that he be removed from the bench.
Mr. Romano said the complaint against Judge Cahill is the first being handled under the commission's new rules, which include the changes making the matter public and providing for prosecution by the investigative council.
Susan C. Elgin, a member of the Select Committee of Gender Equality, which filed a complaint with the commission, said Judge Cahill's comments and actions deserve to be reviewed.
"My committee would be very encouraged by the fact that the judicial disabilities commission is moving forward and doing something," she said. "There's no way the general public can have any confidence in him being a fair trier of fact with all these kinds of attitudes."
The commission, created in 1970, consists of four judges, two lawyers and one lay member, all appointed by the governor. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe is the chairwoman and only returning member this year.
A constitutional amendment approved by the legislature this year for submission to the voters would increase the number of nonlawyers on the panel.