Legal Ethics

Judge's Joking Went Too Far

Updated: During his first four years on the bench, Baltimore County District Judge Bruce Lamdin tended to say what he thought. Some considered him a breath of fresh air, a jurist who really knew how to establish a rapport with those who appeared in front of him and make a court appearance enjoyable.

But after a party complained in late 2005 about Lamdin’s comments, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities reviewed taped transcripts of Lamdin’s hearings and determined that a number of his comments were, crass, profane, sarcastic, disparaging and undignified. The 59-year-old jurist has admitted that he erred, and since 2006 has toned down his colorful commentary considerably. Nonetheless, the Maryland Court of Appeals will hold a hearing next month on whether to impose the 30-day suspension recommended by the commission, writes the Baltimore Sun.

It is reportedly the first time since 1984, when the state’s highest court removed a judge from the bench for forging documents, that the court has held such a disciplinary hearing.

According to an earlier article in the Baltimore City Paper, Lamdin’s questionable remarks included “comments about children, the Baltimore City judiciary, the Maryland correctional system, the state of Pennsylvania, the Baltimore County Circuit Court and its judges, and drug treatment.” At one point, he asked a defendant “Do you think I just came in on the watermelon truck today?” At another, he told a defendant “if there is a pile of shit there you’ll step in it,” the commission found.

More of the judge’s colorful bench commentary is detailed in another City Paper article.

“I now realize how my comments could be viewed as discourteous, undignified and therefore sanctionable,” Lamdin wrote in a letter to the commission. “In an attempt to reach criminal defendants with my comments, I talked in language I knew they understood. The comments were not mean-spirited, but I realized I went over the line.”

Now “it’s not as much fun to be in front of him, and he’s not as funny as he used to be,” says David Irwin, a criminal defense lawyer. “But it’s a serious job, and I understand the commission’s point that you have to have the appearance of judiciousness.”

(Updated Oct. 19 at 1:42 p.m., CDT.)

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