Baltimore Co. judge threatened jail time for ringing phones

A Baltimore County judge has agreed to a five-day unpaid suspension, admitting that he was wrong to summarily find 28 people in contempt for courtroom disruptions — including two dozen fined and threatened with jail time after their cellphones sounded in his courtroom.

District Judge Norman Stone III also will be on administrative probation for two years.

Maryland's top court signed off late Friday on the agreement between Stone, 54, and the Commission on Judicial Disabilities. His attorney acknowledged that Stone had exceeded his authority by sentencing people for contempt without allowing them to fully defend themselves in court. At least two people were jailed for slamming doors.

"Judge Stone agreed that the 28 cases provide clear and convincing evidence that he violated the Rules of Judicial Conduct and engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice," the disciplinary agreement states.

Stone, a District Court judge since 1998 and the son of state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., could not be reached for comment.

"He takes this all very seriously, obviously. He realizes he has made some calls that were out of the strike zone, if you will," said his attorney, David B. Irwin. "He'd been 14 years without any sanctions."

The courtroom incidents took place over about nine months between May 2011 and last February, according to documents released by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities. The commission, which investigates judges and can discipline them, accepts complaints from people, but also can act on its own. It is unclear how the commission became aware of the contempt findings.

One person who used his cellphone in court had an additional two months in jail tacked on to his sentence of six months on a drug charge, according to a transcript. The contempt charge was later dismissed, according to court records.

And as a man left the courtroom after Stone sentenced his daughter to 15 days in jail on a drug charge, the judge accused him of slamming the door and sent him to jail as well.

"Sentence of the court is 30 days in the Baltimore County Detention Center starting today. That's my standard sentence for door slammers," Stone said, after the man apologized. Court records show he appealed and the case was dismissed.

Everyone who had only a cellphone infraction paid a fine by the day's end.

A transcript points to Stone being exasperated by the phones, which people are told to turn off in courts around the state. But not everyone does, and people routinely are told to surrender their ringing electronic devices temporarily — but their liberty isn't at risk.

"Now listen, I'm sorry to do this, but if I don't draw a line everybody's going to be texting and talking and the courtroom will just be an unmanageable place," he told one apparent cellphone offender. "All right, the fine is due by four o'clock today. You get your phone back when the fine's paid. Failure to pay the fine will result in a warrant and you'll serve the 10 days. OK?"

Irwin said the judge has changed his policy.

"Now he says please turn your phone off or take it outside," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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