Court of Appeals suspends judge, orders health evaluation

Colleagues testified that judge berated court clerks and was unprofessional

By Heather Cobun
BridgeTower Media Newswires
BALTIMORE — Maryland’s highest court has suspended a Baltimore judge without pay for six months as a sanction for yelling at fellow judges and court staff, as well as for disrupting court proceedings and failing to properly process search warrants.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities recommended the suspension for Baltimore City District Judge Devy Patterson Russell in December after a multi-day hearing. The Court of Appeals, which is responsible for imposing sanctions, heard arguments in March and handed down Russell’s suspension on Friday.

In addition to the suspension, the court ordered Russell to submit to an evaluation by health care professionals “for a complete emotional and behavioral assessment” and to comply fully with the recommended treatment. The evaluating professionals will report to the commission and, ultimately, the court when Russell applies for reinstatement.

Russell has been sitting in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties pending the Court of Appeals decision. The suspension took effect July 1.

Russell’s “misconduct created, over a long period of time, a pervasive, unyielding and serious pattern of disrespectful and blatant disregard for the dignity of Maryland jurists,” according to the unanimous opinion, written by Judge Clayton Greene Jr.

Other judges testified before the commission that Russell berated court clerks and was unprofessional to members of the bench.

The Court of Appeals said in a footnote that Russell had “unrelentingly exhibited a pattern of discourteous and disrespectful behavior” that “taken together ... fostered a toxic environment in the District Court.”

Russell denied allegations of discourteous and bullying behavior and testified before the commission that she was not responsible for the tense atmosphere, accusing her colleagues of isolating her. Her attorney told the court at oral argument in March that Russell had a personality conflict with other judges but that it could not be construed as sanctionable conduct.

But the Court of Appeals expressed concern over Russell’s stance that she had done nothing wrong.

“Instead of admitting to her mistakes and seeking help to improve her behavior, she places blame on others and plays the role of the victim,” Greene wrote. “Respondent fails to recognize the deleterious effects that her misconduct has had on the operation of the District Court and, thus, the severity of her wrongdoings.”

Administrative Judge Barbara B. Waxman contacted District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey because, she said, “things were out of control” and she needed help dealing with the conflicts.

Morrissey met with Russell and urged her to get along with her colleagues, stressing that repeated issues could become a disciplinary matter.

Russell was charged with additional misconduct in April stemming from an incident involving another District Court judge. A hearing began June 24 and is to continue in August.