- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Baltimore's first lady is hearing criminal cases despite a ruling by a judicial ethics panel that she shouldn't hear at least two-thirds of the cases on her new court's docket.
District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley was assigned to the criminal docket by Judge Keith E. Matthews, the District Court's administrative judge, who last month said he would abide by the ethics panel's opinion. The administrative judge recently reversed his position, saying the December ruling by the ethics commission was not binding and new judges needed criminal experience.
Judge O'Malley the wife of wife of Mayor Martin O'Malley and daughter of state Attorney General Joseph Curran had asked the ethics panel to modify its ruling. A majority of the panel concluded that the mayor and judge enjoyed a "special relationship" with the police, who provided them with 24-hour protection.
Judge O'Malley has asked the nine-member committee to modify its opinion to allow her to hear police witnesses, who are involved in most cases involving criminals. A court official said at the time that the panel has revised just two opinions in 10 years.
"The ethics committee issued an advisory opinion. She is not in violation of a ruling," Judge Matthews said. "She said she feels comfortable hearing criminal cases, and if that's how she feels, I have no problem assigning her there."
Judge O'Malley and Judge Matthews said she would step down from a case if she believed there was a conflict.
"I have carefully researched all of the laws and canons of judicial ethics. All of the case law clearly supports the fact that I should be able to handle these cases," Judge O'Malley said.
Judge O'Malley, a former Baltimore County prosecutor, was appointed to the bench in July by Gov. Parris N. Glendening after she was recommended by a committee of lawyers and lay people. She has been presiding over civil cases and hearing pleas in early disposition court, which is designed to keep minor criminal cases off city dockets.
The early disposition court was one of several reforms proposed by her husband during his election campaign.


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