Charges that a prominent Prince George's County Circuit judge groped a policeman in an Annapolis Mall men's bathroom were sent into limbo in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday, two days after a district court judge refused to do the same thing with the charges.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner quickly placed the case of Larnzell Martin Jr. on the "stet" docket for one year, which inactivates the charges without a finding of guilt and falls just short of dismissing them.
Martin was charged with indecent exposure, a fourth-degree sexual offense and second-degree assault, all misdemeanors.
"I thought it was appropriate," said Sue-Ellen Hantman, the assistant state's attorney from Howard County who was assigned to the case to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
The Anne Arundel prosecutor's office had hired Martin's law clerk shortly before the Jan. 14 incident that led to the charges.
Hantman had sought the "stet" after conferring with detectivesand viewing the Hecht Co. men's room, and the defense agreed.
District Judge Vincent A. Mulieri surprised Hantman and defense lawyer William Brennan Jr. on Monday by turning down their agreement to inactivate the case. Hantman, a prosecutor for 18 years, said it was the first time a judge had refused her request for a "stet."
Other veteran lawyers said they could not recall a similar incident in the area.
Hantman said the action keeps "a hammer" over Martin. He must complete a counseling program to which the Maryland State Bar Association referred him in February, because the charges could be jump-started within a year by prosecutors, or within two years with the approval of a judge.
But the case still could cost Martin his judgeship.
"There are other proceedings to follow," Brennan said.
Hantman confirmed that the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which sanctions judges, is "going to decide whether he can keep his job." The commission's investigations are secret, and the agency would not say whether it is reviewing the matter.
Martin, who was placed on administrative leave after his arrest, has been assigned to paperwork duties, said William D. Missouri, administrative judge for the 7th Judicial Circuit.
Missouri spoke highly of the colleague he had placed in charge of the family division of Prince George's Circuit Court a year and a half ago.
"He is an erudite man who does a lot of hard work. He is a productive judge," Missouri said. "I miss him terribly."
The busy Prince George's circuit is one of the largest in the state, with 21 judges and authorization for two more in October.
On Monday, Mulieri had gone along with an agreement for probation before judgment in a nearly identical case only minutes before Martin's case was called. That requires the defendant to admit guilt, then have the verdict removed from his record after he successfully completes probation.
Martin was arrested during a series of undercover police operations last year at men's pickup spots in the county. Most first offenders in those cases who have gone to court received probation before judgment or had their cases "stetted."
The American Civil Liberties Union has taken issue with many of those cases -- though not with Martin's -- claiming they unfairly pick on gay men for the same private consensual sexual activity that is legal between heterosexual couples.
That case, filed in February in Baltimore City Circuit Court, has not come to trial.
Pub Date: 6/11/98