IN THE NEXT two months, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities will take unprecedented steps to hold judges accountable for their actions. A circuit court judge in Towson and a district court judge in Rockville will be brought before the panel for misconduct. The allegations, and responses, will be aired in public. Sunshine is about to enter the judges' chambers.
Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr., in Towson circuit court, created a furor with his comments in sentencing a trucker to a minimal sentence for killing his unfaithful wife. The commission staff said his remarks showed "disrespect and a refusal to acknowledge the law" as well as appearing "to excuse male violent behavior against a female." The judge disputes these points.
In Judge Henry J. Monahan's case, the commission staff charged him with twice having sex with a prostitute in his Rockville chambers and of ordering everyone to remain in his courtroom when a fire broke out in the basement. Now the judge will have his chance to rebut the charges.
Both episodes highlight welcome changes in Maryland's judiciary. Thanks to a law that went into effect July 1, there finally is a way to air complaints against judges in public view. Judges no longer are immune from criticism and public scrutiny. They now can be made to explain outrageous comments from the bench, questionable sentences or bizarre behavior.
Previously, few disciplinary actions saw the light of day. Everything was done in secrecy. Sanctions were rare. But now the judicial disabilities commission has its own investigative staff and a way to assure the public that charges against judges will be examined in the open. The recommendations will be made known, and then forwarded to the Court of Appeals for final action.
Judges occupy very powerful posts. That's why they must be held to high standards of conduct. In the next few months, the public will get its first glimpse into life on the courtroom bench. People can judge for themselves if charges of judicial misconduct are valid.