- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Judges rarely act as whistleblowers, but that's exactly what Charlotte Cooksey did.
She's taking a stand in a Baltimore court case that centers on a city jail that exposed inmates to potentially deadly conditions.
During her career as Baltimore's longest-sitting District Court judge, Judge Cooksey has often taken it upon herself to make bold and sometimes unpopular decisions.
In late July, she entered the windowless Women's Detention Center, where 576 inmates awaited trial, and was outraged to find them sweltering in their cells. She labeled the conditions "sickening" and demanded reports on the health of everyone confined there.
Judge Cooksey also heard stories from public defenders who argued at bail hearings that their clients were suffering at the jail. So Judge
Judge Cooksey, who presided over the hearings, decided to see for herself.
"The only experience I can compare it to, which most people share, is getting in a car that's been parked for several hours in the sun without being able to open a window," said Judge Cooksey, 55. "It was such a dramatic, urgent matter. It required, in my judgment, immediate steps."
Lawyers in the case are seeking a middle ground as they negotiate a document that deals with medical and mental health care practices for female Baltimore detainees awaiting trial.
Officials say the steps Judge Cooksey took were unorthodox. City judges rarely make sweeping changes at state-run jails. But Judge Cooksey's demand for health reports touched off a wave of changes in the jail and perhaps in the state system that oversees prisoner health care.
Though some state officials say she has an unrealistic idea about health care conditions , most civil rights advocates say Judge Cooksey is helping address some basic social wrongs at the jail.
"It is obvious that she took her obligation quite seriously and rightly sees her duties as enforcing the Constitution," said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union national prison project. "I can't think of any case like it. The Cooksey proceedings played a critical role in bringing detention-center conditions to public attention."

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