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Baltimore judge faces charges of polluting

The Baltimore Sun

The state has filed criminal charges against a Baltimore judge, accusing him of failing to clean up hundreds of tons of construction rubble dumped on his waterfront property in Anne Arundel County, the attorney general's office announced yesterday.

District Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr., who maintains a residence in Riviera Beach on the Patapsco River, faces 12 counts, including allegations of unlawfully filling a wetland, unlawful dumping, construction without a sediment control plan and water pollution. If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to seven years in prison and $75,000 in fines.

"These charges address serious environmental crimes," said Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. "Just taking a look at the fines and the potential for jail time, these should not be taken lightly."

The charges, which were filed Friday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, follow civil complaints filed by the county and the Maryland Department of the Environment demanding a cleanup and seeking damages.

Gatewood's attorney, John F. Dougherty, predicted that his client would be exonerated, but he declined to discuss the specific allegations. Dougherty has said previously that his client was performing shoreline restoration work to repair damage from 2003's Tropical Storm Isabel on his secondary home on Bay Road. County inspectors said they found no evidence of damage.

"The charges have no basis or fact," said Dougherty, who said he learned of the criminal charges from news media inquiries. "Unlike the attorney general, we're going to try this case in the courts, not in the newspapers."

It is unclear how the charges against Gatewood could affect his seat on the bench. He has been a Baltimore district court judge since 1984. He is also president and sole owner of Monumental City Realty Corp., a real estate development company.

The Maryland Commission of Judicial Disabilities, the investigative body that enforces conduct among the Maryland judiciary, can issue a private reprimand, enter into a deferred discipline agreement with a judge or conduct a hearing to determine whether a judge has a disability necessitating retirement or has committed sanctionable conduct, according to its Web site. Only one or two cases each year result in those actions.

The commission, which typically investigates 120 to 150 judges each year, can also recommend sanctions to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which can include a censure or removal from office, a rare scenario.

The state's highest court is considering sanctioning or suspending a Baltimore County district judge who disparaged the Circuit Court benches in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The hearing in December regarding Judge Bruce S. Lamdin's conduct was the first of its kind in the state since 1984, when the Court of Appeals removed a judge for forging court documents.

The commission privately sanctioned Washington County Judge W. Kennedy Boone III for making inappropriate remarks in court last year, according to a Jan. 18 listing in the Maryland Register. It said Boone called three minority, female assistant public defenders the "Supremes" and insisted that an "experienced male attorney" from the public defender's office represent their client.

In Gatewood's case, the county received an anonymous tip on Oct. 9, 2006, that trucks - possibly as many as 40, an investigation later revealed - were dumping landfill material along the water, where the Patapsco River meets Stony Creek. The county issued a stop-work order Oct. 13, 2006, but inspectors found evidence of more dumping.

The attorney general's office filed a civil complaint against him on Nov. 15, seeking a $10,000 penalty, alleging that an MDE inspector observed masonry rubble, asphalt, broken bathroom fixtures, electrical wiring, chunks of concrete and fine dust along Gatewood's 470 feet of shoreline. The county sought the maximum $8,500 fine against Greenwood for not obtaining grading permits.

County Executive John R. Leopold, who wrote to Gansler in early November questioning the state's commitment to prosecuting environmental crimes and suggesting that the judge was receiving "special treatment," yesterday applauded Gansler's action, calling it "strong," but saying that it is "long overdue."

Guillory rejected the idea that the judge was treated differently.

"We would not be doing our job if we rushed through an investigation without having all of the evidence before we went to court," she said.

Gatewood is set for arraignment on Feb. 11.


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