Judge's attitude is not helping fight crime

The Baltimore Sun

I know what happens to certain judges of the District Court of Maryland. Boredom starts to build. I have seen the eyes of brilliant men and women glaze on the District Court bench, as they listen to traffic cases or arguments between neighbors or testimony about yet another drug case. If you look hard enough, you can see etched in the glaze the question: "Is this why I went to law school?"

Certain judges of the District Court try to enliven things with sardonic levity -- and there was a time, perhaps fully in the past, when this humor was, if not appreciated, certainly accepted. Thirty years ago, a judge might have heard testimony about a defendant smashing his fist through a plate-glass storefront, turned to the defendant and asked, "What're you, mental?"

You're less likely to hear that sort of thing today.

Except, apparently, in the court of Judge Bruce Lamdin in Baltimore County. As Van Smith reported in the April 18 edition of the City Paper, some of Lamdin's comments from the bench in recent years were sarcastic and of barnyard quality. Lamdin faces a hearing about his conduct next month before the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

"Courtroom recordings, transcribed in CJD's charges filed against Lamdin, reveal that he has lambasted defendants, other judges, other courts, and judicial programs with the colorful style of a stand-up comic," Smith reported.

The comments that jumped out at me were aimed at the mother of a defendant who had asked that her son be placed in a drug treatment program.

"You got the wrong judge today," Lamdin is quoted as saying. 'I am not one of those touchy-feely judges that goes for programs where everyone holds hands and sings Kum Bay Yah, and they hand out lollipops to each other and gift certificates. I don't believe in that drug court and all that other foolishness." Later, he added, "I don't feel like it's the responsibility of the taxpayers to take care of every damn drug addict on the street," and "I think jail has a telling effect on some people, especially if they are young and dumb like your son is."

That's the attitude that got us where we are -- prisons overflowing with drug-addicted defendants, some with mental illnesses, who keep the revolving doors spinning because they never get (and, in many cases, can't afford) the treatment that might ultimately reduce the state's costly rate of recidivism.

Former Gov. Parris Glendening appointed Lambin, a defense attorney, to the bench in 2002. At the time, The Sun reported that Lamdin had been "active in county groups that work to fight substance abuse," and Judge Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, referred to Lamdin and another judicial nominee as "hard-working, experienced practitioners with the temperament to become outstanding jurists."

A childhood hero

I guess this happens when you hit a certain age -- your childhood heroes go off to heaven. Last Sunday, I mentioned the death of the legendary shot put champion Parry O'Brien, and expressed regret at having never written to express appreciation for his innovations and his he-man daring.

Last week, the obituaries reported the passing of another hero, but it left me with no such regret.

When word arrived Friday that Wally Schirra had died at 84, I had a strong emotional reaction -- filled with memories of a room with two windows -- but no guilt. I had done my duty years ago -- twice, at that.

I don't remember exactly why, but Wally Schirra was the Mercury (and Gemini and Apollo) astronaut I admired most. When I was in fourth grade, he successfully guided his Gemini 6 capsule to the first-ever rendezvous in space with another capsule, Gemini 7. Schirra, who earlier had been overshadowed by his fellow Mercury 7 astronauts (John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, etc.), suddenly became famous -- the perfect pilot with a cool hand at the controls.

I wrote Schirra a letter.

He wrote back, and sent an autographed color portrait, the same photograph that appeared on the front page of Friday's Sun. I tacked the photograph to the wall in my room, between the two windows, and sometimes I would lie in bed at night, with the shades rolled high so I could see stars, and I would imagine Schirra and other astronauts zipping through space. Sounds corny, but that's what kids did back then.

Space travel was all new, magical and wonderful. We hadn't reached the moon yet, and no one except the Jetsons spoke of a space shuttle.

The astronauts were famous, but not only that -- they actually did something grand and truly heroic. They deserved their celebrity.

I liked Schirra because he seemed to live in the shadow of the others -- quiet, professional, precise and steely-brave.

Years later, while at the boat show in the downtown convention center, I found Wally Schirra at a booth for Realty World. He wore a blazer with a Realty World patch.

I walked up, shook his hand and told him he'd been one of my boyhood heroes.

Schirra smiled and said, "You should have joined us in space."

I wanted to ask Wally Schirra for a new autograph, but reporters aren't supposed to do that (and I suppose I didn't really want a picture of him in a Realty World blazer).

Though the moment was a bit awkward, I felt good. As a man, I faced my hero and told him how I'd felt about him as a boy, and that my feelings had never changed.

Godspeed, captain.


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