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Maryland Court of Appeals judges hear oral arguments in Annapolis. Would a data base revealing the length of sentences imposed by individual judges make them more accountable or just fearful of being seen as lenient?
Maryland Court of Appeals judges hear oral arguments in Annapolis. Would a data base revealing the length of sentences imposed by individual judges make them more accountable or just fearful of being seen as lenient? (File photo / Baltimore Sun)

A judicial evaluation system seems like a noble concept in theory. However, Gov. Larry Hogan's demand for judicial transparency and the bipartisan push for such isn't exactly rooted in altruism. Consistent with all things related to criminal justice in Baltimore, Governor Hogan and the movement to highlight judges' records comes from a "tough on crime" stance — as in let's show everyone the "softies."

Listen to any argument in favor of publicizing judicial records, including the Sun's editiorial (“The public needs some way to judge the judges,” Feb. 13), and you'll see a desire to expose lenient sentencers for certain offenses. I work in the courts as a public defender, and certain aspects this demand for transparency hold water with me like courtroom cameras and making it easier to decipher judicial codes in place of names on Maryland Case Search. Heck, the evaluations might expose biases an inequities that could improve the system.

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But that isn't going to happen when the movement comes from a place of fear. No one, I mean no one, has argued that we'd also learn of lenient, compassionate or fair judges within this system. What of judges that understand the law best? Instead, it's about “exposing” those who give “light” sentences and “calling them out.” In turn, judges will react by being even more harsh just to avoid the press.

It's extremely difficult to quantify sentencing and second guess judges' decisions when cases have unique facts and circumstances. Mr. Hogan's heavy hand in this process teeters on stripping the separation of powers. He appointed these folks and he needs to stop trying to scare them into submission.

Todd Oppenheim, Baltimore

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