By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
A judge known for his often-controversial courtroom behavior has been sanctioned by a key judiciary oversight body which recommended his immediate removal from the bench, the most serious punishment allowed.
Baltimore Chief Judge Nance (Courtesy Photo)
The Commission of Judicial Disabilities found Baltimore Chief Circuit Court Judge Alfred Nance has been” undignified, condescending, and unprofessional,” during several trials, and urged his immediate removal. The commission also recommended Nance be barred from serving as a senior judge after he retires at the mandatory age of 70.
Nance is 69.
The findings were released last week after a series of hearings in September. The decision has been forwarded to the Maryland Court of Appeals which will have the final say on Nance’s fate.
The ruling comes after an investigation by the commission into Nance’s behavior during several trials in 2015. Among the findings were that Nance made “gratuitous, insensitive, inflammatory, and relentless” remarks to a defense attorney. The commission also concluded Nance engaged in “yelling, glaring, frowning, sneering, and banging the bench the loudly.”
In a written response filed with the commission, Nance’s attorney argued the findings were bereft of “facts” and focused primarily on sanctioning behavior that was not subject to review.
“Demeanor, tone and ire are vague and ambiguous terms,” William C Brennan argued in a motion to strike the recommendation. “Judge Nance cannot reasonably frame a response to such an amorphous argument.”
Maryland law requires judges to conduct trials with fairness and decorum.
Much of the commission’s findings focused on a 2015 trial in which Deborah Levi, a Baltimore public defender served as defense council. According to the findings, Nance had threatened Levi with contempt of court after making a series of derogatory comments about her courtroom tactics.
During the proceedings, according to transcripts cited by the commission, Nance’s attitude was “sarcastic and dismissive” throughout the trial. Several times he admonished the defense counsel with confrontational comments like “shut up and listen,” and “you’re hovering like a mother hen.” During a motion hearing he stated she was “here to represent your ego.” Later he criticized a juror who claimed he was depressed by commenting, “You look as happy as can be.”
Nance’s courtroom antics were no secret at the city’s downtown courthouse.
During his twenty years on the bench he was known for exhorting court observers to pull up their pants or threatening reporters with contempt of court for not sitting in an area designated for the press.