A room to chill the blood

The Baltimore Sun

The marble on the walls of Baltimore's spectacular, circular courtroom came from the Vatican quarry. The fancy-schmancy coffered dome, modeled on one in the Library of Congress. And the ghost? Nobody's quite sure where he came from.

Circuit Judge Wanda Keyes Heard thinks her courtroom is haunted. How else to explain the chills that strike even when the heat is cranked up, the glass tabletop that shattered for no reason?

"I'm an open-minded person," Heard said. "I don't presume to think as humans we know everything spiritually in life."

Heard isn't the only one who thinks there's a spirit about in Courtroom No. 600 and adjoining chambers on the sixth floor of the Mitchell Courthouse. Her law clerk, Natasha Todman, is convinced. So is Adam Sean Cohen, a lawyer and friend of the judge who said he was "neutral" on the existence of ghosts - until a few months ago, when he had a seemingly paranormal experience in her chambers.

"We were talking, and she mentioned to me that she had become convinced there was a spirit or some type of presence in the courtroom," Cohen said. "C'mon!" he thought to himself. "There's probably a logical explanation."

Next thing you know, the skeptic got the chills.

"My entire body felt like I was in a grocery store in the frozen foods section, when you open the door - you're warm, in a warm area, but there's this coldness around you. I stopped talking and said I had to leave. 'I gotta leave.' I literally turned my back to her and walked out. ... It was the most unnerving thing ever. Never in a million years would I turn my back on a judge and just walk out. You want to give them the most deference possible."

This judge, at least, was understanding.

"She said that I looked like I'd just seen a ghost," Cohen said. "But I guess for lack of a better term, I'd just felt a ghost."

Mr. Chief Justice, clean up that mess

If Baltimore has a haunted courtroom, that presents an intriguing whodunit. Judge Heard suspects it's the spirit of Roger B. Taney, the 19th-century U.S. Supreme Court chief justice whose name is inscribed on the dome.

(Taney never presided in that courtroom, having died decades before the courthouse was completed in 1900. But he lived across the street, in a now-demolished house on East Lexington, said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James F. Schneider, who is the Mitchell Courthouse historian and who takes no position on ghosts.)

Taney wrote the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision. That gives the departed justice motive if not obvious means or opportunity.

"He might have a little bit of a problem with me presiding," said Heard, noting that her ancestors were slaves.

During a break in court proceedings one day, Heard said she was chatting about the history of the courtroom. Just as she pointed out Taney's name, "We heard this huge pop and a giant piece of glass sitting on the table in front of [her secretary] had broken into a million pieces."

Case closed.

No, $12.5 million is not a joke

Just as Black & Decker announced that CEO Nolan Archibald took home $12.5 million last year, nearly $2 million of it in performance-related bonuses and awards, the Towson-based firm told employees not to expect any merit raises.

Wasn't the timing kinda funny?

Spokesman Roger Young didn't think so.

"We would not consider it a laughing matter," he said. "Obviously it's a difficult time for our industry."

A stimulus for the Shore economy

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris is thinking about buying a second home on the Eastern Shore, an area he'd like to represent in Congress, The (Salisbury) Daily Times reports. Not a campaign move, the Harris camp told the paper.

Harris' Democratic rival, Queen Anne's County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil, told The Times he was glad the Cockeysville anesthesiologist was thinking about buying in the area. "I am also glad that, while so many families are struggling to make ends meet and afford one mortgage, the Harrises are blessed with the opportunity have a second home."

And you thought the pols were too busy sniping at each other to notice the mortgage crisis.

Connect the dots

My column about Cynthia Sobotka, the Baltimore cop who tried, and failed, to weasel out of a speeding ticket, had one Wire fan wondering: Is she related to the Sobotkas down at the port? ... The Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave lawmakers chocolate CRUNCH bars with a message on the wrapper: "Help End the Job CRUNCH. Clean Energy Industries Create Jobs." ... The duck fat french fries mentioned in Friday's column elicited this from a reader: "[T]here is a still-new restaurant in Columbia called Victoria Gastro Pub that has 'poutine' on their menu. Poutine is a French-Canadian curiosity that folks in Baltimore would recognize as 'gravy fries, hon.'" Eight-dollar gravy fries, which come with duck confit, gruyere cheese and, of course, duck gravy. Adds my anonymous gourmand: "I think there is an ambulance parked in the rear to transport folks directly to the CCU at the hospital."

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