A state panel on judicial discipline has recommended that Baltimore’s chief judge be removed from his position and not be permitted to serve as a judge in any jurisdiction in the state — the “strongest possible sanction” — according to a decision posted Wednesday.
The Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which held a multi-day hearing on allegations against Chief Judge Alfred Nance, found by unanimous vote that he had committed “sanctionable conduct” and referred their recommendations to the Court of Appeals, which has final say.
“In the commission’s view, the imposition of a public reprimand or suspension is not commensurate with the serious violation of misconduct in office committed by Judge Nance and does not reassure the public that Judge Nance will be deterred from engaging in similar behavior in the future,” the commission wrote. “The commission concludes that the gravity of the code violations require the imposition of the strongest possible sanction.”
Nance, 69, was accused of having a series of "persistently disrespectful and unprofessional" interactions with a public defender. This is at least the third time the Commission on Judicial Disabilities has publicly moved to discipline Nance.
Nance’s attorney, William Brennan Jr., could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
During a hearing last month, Brennan said the judge was simply “old school,” a no-nonsense but fair judge. He warned that disciplining Nance would set a dangerous precedent.
But prosecutor Carol Crawford told the panel: “A judge is not a king, not a queen, not a god. It’s preposterous that because a judge is from a certain generation or viewpoint, it somehow excuses their conduct.”
The panel found that Nance made comments in two cases that were “undignified, condescending, and unprofessional.” They called his “facial expressions, tone of voice and body language” were “gratuitous, insensitive, inflammatory, and relentless.”
Charges stemming from two other cases were dismissed for “lack of proof,” the commission wrote.
State laws require judges to maintain fairness and decorum and conduct themselves in a manner that promotes confidence in the courts.
Prosecutors played hours of courtroom video from Nance’s cases during last month’s hearing. They described a pattern of behavior by the judge that they said belittled those in his courtroom.
The charges were based on his courtroom encounters with assistant public defender Deborah Levi, whom prosecutors said Nance dismissively referred to as “lady,” “mother hen” and “child.” They said Nance once told Levi to “shut up” and threatened to throw her in jail. She filed a complaint against Nance with the commission.
In 2001, he received a public reprimand after female prosecutors complained that he had an explosive temper and commented on their appearance. The commission found he had demeaned women in court and chambers and been "rude" and "hostile" to attorneys in a medical malpractice case.
Nance served as a public defender and private attorney before joining the bench in 1998. He is less than one year from his 70th birthday, the age at which judges are required to retire.
Judges can continue to hear cases after mandatory retirement, but the judicial panel recommended that he not be able to serve as a senior judge.