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State panel recommends adding 3 months to Baltimore judge’s suspension

District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell, right, with her lawyer William Brennan, arrives at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis for a discipline hearing in June.
District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell, right, with her lawyer William Brennan, arrives at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis for a discipline hearing in June. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

Maryland’s judicial discipline panel wants to extend the unpaid suspension of a Baltimore judge after finding that she used her influence to try to hurt the reputation of a colleague she didn’t like.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities said in an order issued Tuesday that Judge Devy Patterson Russell should receive an additional three-month suspension for violating rules of judicial conduct. Russell is already suspended for six months under an earlier disciplinary matter in which the Maryland Court of Appeals found that her behavior “fostered a toxic environment in the district court.”

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The latest case stemmed from accusations that Russell spread a rumor that Judge Catherine “Katie” Curran O’Malley had used profanity against a citizen in the courtroom — and that she tried to influence bailiffs to change a report about the incident. The allegations date back to 2015, but a disciplinary hearing for Russell was not held until this summer.

According to testimony from the June hearing, Russell reported to Judge Barbara B. Waxman, the administrative judge for Baltimore City District Court, that O’Malley had cursed at a citizen in court. When Waxman listened to an audio recording, she determined that a citizen in the courtroom — upset with the case’s outcome — had cursed at O’Malley. O’Malley repeated the comment to clarify what was said, Waxman testified.

A bailiff also testified that Russell later asked why the profanity wasn’t included in an incident report. Bailiffs then updated the report to include the profanity.

Russell’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In its recommendation, the commission said that Russell had a “personal vendetta” against O’Malley and exerted “undue influence” over the two bailiffs in her attempt to defame O’Malley.

The panel found that Russell, a district court judge since 2006, broke rules about promoting confidence in the judiciary, avoiding using the prestige of office for personal interest and cooperating with other judges.

“This case is more than one judge having and voicing a negative opinion of another judge,” the commission wrote. “This matter involved Judge Russell making concerted efforts, outside of normal operations, to embarrass an individual, who happens to be a member of the judiciary, due to personal dislike.”

The commission said that a three-month unpaid suspension “is justified given the nature of Judge Russell’s conduct, her prior disciplinary history, and the extent to which it continues to disrupt and denigrate the judiciary, and the public’s confidence in its integrity and dignity.”

The commission’s recommendation is subject to the approval of the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s highest court.

In Russell’s previous case, the commission found last year that Russell, 53, had pushed a courthouse staffer, neglected search warrant paperwork and yelled at courthouse colleagues. In June, the appeals court imposed the panel’s recommendation for a six-month suspension in that case, saying that the judge “exhibited a pattern of divisive, combative, and volatile interpersonal issues.”

Russell also drew criticism earlier this year after she denied a court order requested by 22-year-old Tyrique Hudson to protect him from a Glen Burnie neighbor. Russell determined that Hudson hadn’t met the burden of proof. The neighbor, James Allan Verombeck, was later charged with killing Hudson.

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