- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) An ethics panel that ruled Mayor Martin O'Malley's wife District Court Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley could not hear most of the cases before a special court proposed by her husband now says she can choose which cases to hear.
The state panel said it stood by its December ruling that Judge O'Malley's family ties she is also the daughter of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. made it improper for her to hear most cases in the early disposition court. The decisions on which cases to hear, however, was up to her.
"The judge is certainly free to evaluate the need for recusal in individual cases," District Court Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey, chairman of the nine-member Judicial Ethics Committee, wrote in a letter received by Judge O'Malley's attorney on Thursday.
"However, the Committee has concluded that the guidance it has previously given in its opinion is appropriate. It is the judge's decision whether to accept this guidance."
Last month, the administrative judge who initially said he would abide by the ruling changed his position and said Judge O'Malley would continue to hear criminal cases in the disposition court. Judge Keith E. Matthews, the District Court's administrative judge, said the ruling was merely an advisory, adding that he believed new judges need criminal experience.
Judge O'Malley said she was pleased the panel recognized her right to decide which cases to hear.
"They seem to be making a retreat, if you will, that they recognize the principle that the judge is charged with making a decision regarding recusals on a case-by-case basis," she said.
The majority of the panel has concluded that Judge O'Malley and her husband enjoy a "special relationship" with the police, who provide them with 24-hour protection.
The panel decided Judge O'Malley cannot hear cases involving police witnesses, civil lawsuits seeking money from the city or its agencies, or money-judgment cases involving the state. Most of the criminal cases in the court involve listening to testimony from police witnesses.
Judge O'Malley asked the nine-member committee to modify its opinion to allow her to hear police witnesses. A court official said the panel has revised just two opinions in 10 years.
The early disposition court, designed to keep minor criminal cases off city dockets, was one of several reforms proposed by Mr. O'Malley during his election campaign.


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