With the networks canceling shows this week, the Maryland courts have decided to take off the bench one of the most colorful and quotable jurists. The Maryland Supreme Court has suspended Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin for his use of profanity and wise cracks from the bench.
Lambin, 60, seems a bit too relaxed on the bench, often sprinkling rulings with biting asides and profanities. To one prostitute, he observed “Business must be good. … If I released you, you’d be scratching that itch tonight.” To another prostitute: “You may be able to get some crack down there. … Those guards down there provide services for services.”
To another defendant caught speeding on the way back to Pennsylvania, he noted, What’s the big rush to get back to Pennsylvania? It’s an ugly state.” To a man charged with driving on a suspended license: “…The hits keep coming. I mean, if there is a pile of [expletive] there you’ll step in it.”
When a baby was removed by his mother crying from the courtroom, he suggested that they might want to treat babies like cell phones and put them into a plastic bag and send them to Annapolis (after punching holes in them of course).
Of course, he may regret one target: appellate judges. In discussing the appellate bench, he noted in court that “They’re all on their way to have cocktails or something up there at the Circuit Court.”
Most of these comments seem juvenile but a reprimand would appear in order rather than suspension. Yet, the pattern may have justified the greater punishment. Of course, he can hardly complain, when one defendant pleaded for mercy, he noted “You haven’t heard? … I’m a merciless SOB.”
Well, I hadn’t heard that, but I heard he is now a suspended judge.
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His comments included disparaging remarks about drug treatment programs and the Baltimore City criminal justice system. He said that one defendant couldn’t seem to keep from stepping in “a pile of [expletive].” He used a slang term for oral sex while sentencing a woman on prostitution charges.
The Court of Appeals, in a 24-page opinion, said the conduct “was prejudicial to the administration of justice, manifested bias toward many groups, and lacked dignity, courtesy, and patience.”
The court added: “Even if the comments were delivered in a joking manner, it is difficult to imagine a context in which such remarks would be appropriate or consistent with behavior that promotes public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the Judiciary.”
An investigation into Lamdin’s conduct began when a Reisterstown man filed a complaint about the judge’s handling of traffic cases. The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities ordered audio recordings of nine months of hearings from Lamdin’s courtroom.
Gary J. Kolb, an attorney and executive secretary of the commission, said his colleagues were pleased with the court’s decision.
“It’s a wake-up call for judges on how they should act,” Kolb said. “The opinion will be important for them to review. And of course the public will feel good that the court feels like this is an important issue.”
Kolb said the commission sometimes receives complaints about other judges, but Lamdin’s case was unusual because of the high number in a relatively short time.
“It’s not like he had a bad day and said a few things,” Kolb said. “But, I think we’re blessed in Maryland. We don’t have a lot of serious activity going on with judges. They seem to be, by and large, doing their jobs and a good job at it.”
Neither Lamdin nor his lawyer returned phone calls seeking comment. In a letter to the commission, Lamdin acknowledged that his comments could be viewed as “discourteous, undignified and therefore sanctionable.”
“In an attempt to reach criminal defendants with my comments, I talked in language I knew they understood,” he wrote. “The comments were not mean-spirited, but I realized I went over the line.”
Lamdin has been a District Court judge since 2002. He graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1972 and is a member of the Substance Abuse Advisory Council in Baltimore County.
Attorneys and judges have described him as a hard worker with a dry wit who genuinely cares about both the victims and perpetrators of crime.
The case against him comes more than a decade after two other Baltimore County judges faced potential discipline for comments from the bench.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger was reprimanded but not suspended for comments in a 1993 rape case that involved an 18-year-old woman who had passed out in a man’s bed. The judge labeled the situation “the dream of a lot of males.”
In October 1994, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. was criticized for saying, when a man pleaded guilty to shooting his wife after catching her in bed with another man, that he could not imagine someone in that position not feeling compelled to resort to some sort of corporal punishment. A state judicial disciplinary board dismissed all charges against Cahill.
Two years ago, the Commission on Judicial Disabilities issued a public reprimand to Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas for misconduct that included calling a defendant in his courtroom “a jerk.”