We have a pandemic of judicial incompetence in family courts throughout the United States. The Center for Judicial Excellence is doing a phenomenal job of removing these judges one judge at a time. It is arduous work requiring an extensive network of strategic partnerships with a myriad of state and local agencies. Judges have a level of job security that most people can’t imagine or comprehend.
When Julia Fletcher brought the Washington Post’s editorial, “When Judges Behave Badly” to my attention, I was ecstatic. The Washington Post has world-class prestige for investigative journalism. An editorial in their Sunday edition is huge. Epic.
Update: Judge Bruce Sewell Lamdin announced his retirement from the bench!
The editorial said:
Advocates for victims of domestic violence said that the exchange [between Judge Bruce Lamdin and a DV survivor] is a textbook case of how women who have been abused are treated as if they did something wrong; of misplaced concern for the alleged batterer (“Where is he going to live if I put him out of the house?”); and of ignorance about the options abused women face (“You can get out of there anytime you want”). Such behavior provides little encouragement to vulnerable women to see the courts as the institution that can help protect their safety. That District Court Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn took the unusual step of ordering Judge Lamdin to conduct “chambers only” work — a decision apparently reached upon listening to the audiotape — sends an important message to the bench.
. . .Judicial confirmation hearings are generally pro-forma affairs; those who are in the best position to flag possible problems with a judge (attorneys, court employees, other members of the bench) keep quiet for fear of angering a judge who likely will get reappointed. The 2011 incident came to light only after Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) had his staff review the docket, a painstaking process that took months.
I did a quick “Yippee Skippy!” dance and shared the good news. It didn’t take long for the editorial to go viral on Facebook. People who listened to the tape of the hearing on the Washington Post’s site were outraged by Judge Bruce Sewell Lamdin’s conduct.
How Did This Happen?
On September 6:
The House of Ruth Maryland [a domestic violence shelter] joined the Women’s Law Center [of Maryland] and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault in filing a Judicial Disabilities Complaint against Baltimore County District Court Judge Bruce Lamdin.
This complaint stems from his horrifying treatment of a domestic violence victim who was seeking a protective order in his courtroom. During the 30 minutes this woman stood before Judge Lamdin, he berated her, questioned why she didn’t go to shelter, insinuated that her name wasn’t on the deed of her family home because she had no money, accused her of seeing money as more important than the safety of her children, and suggested that a protective order is just a piece of paper that her abuser could shoot her through.
Judge Lamdin is eligible for a 10 year judicial reappointment in October of 2012. If you think Judge Lamdin shouldn’t be on the bench:
1.) Call the Governor’s Appointments office at: 410-974-2611.
2.) You can also email them to make sure your comments are recorded at firstname.lastname@example.org
On September 5, the Baltimore Sun published, “Senator calls for judge’s ouster after domestic violence comments: Third time in six years Judge Bruce S. Lamdin has come under fire for courtroom actions” written by Luke Broadwater:
“He’s an absolute disgrace to the bench,” said State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, who said he has had constituents complain to him about Lamdin. “I have tremendous empathy for any of my constituents who are
women who’ve had to appear before him.”
Lamdin is up for reappointment to a 10-year term this year, and Brochin said he plans to circulate information about the judge’s behavior to members of the committee in charge of reappointing him. . .
The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which recommended discipline against Lamdin in an unrelated case in 2008, will investigate the incident. . .
Susan Elgin, board member at the Women’s Law Center, said her organization only learned of the case recently. . .[their] complaint was first reported by WBAL-TV. . .
Dorothy J. Lennig, attorney at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic at the House Of Ruth, said Lamdin has a pattern of misbehavior in court, and this case is the most recent example.
The WBAL-TV report, “Complaint filed against Baltimore County judge: Judge Bruce Lamdin removed pending review of domestic violence case,” by investigative reporter Jayne Miller provided further details in a case that is all too familiar to survivors of domestic violence:
. . .the 33-year-old woman [who recently finished graduate school] went to Lamdin’s courtroom in December seeking protection from her husband. She described two incidents that happened in the couple’s White Marsh home that caused her to ask for the husband [who is a military veteran disabled by PTSD] to be removed from the house.
In a courtroom recording, the woman said, “On or about Nov. 27, he pinned me to a shelf, busted my arm open, left a gash in my forearm. He then threw me down on the floor and stomped me in the ribs so hard that I peed my pants. My oldest, who was 12 years old, got my son and hid in a closet with a hammer and called someone to come get us.”
“You can get out of there anytime you want,” Lamdin said.
“With what? With what?” the woman said.
“That’s not my concern. It’s your concern. Your whole concern is money,” Lamdin said.
“You can’t feed children on (inaudible), sir,” the woman said.
“What you’ve done and what you continue to do has been based on what is the economically easy road for you,” Lamdin said. “If your concern was really the safety of your children and yourself, you’d already be out of there. But as always, based on your testimony, it comes back to the almighty dollar. And you can’t afford to.”
. . .”I think what troubles me most is this woman had come to court because she was really scared,” said Dorothy Lenning, an attorney with the House of Ruth. “Instead of helping, the judge torments her, harasses her, really tortures her through what should be a really simple process.”
. . .In nearly 40 years, just 11 judges have been referred for removal by the Court of Appeals, and just three have been fired — two in 1973 and the other in 1984.
Separate from the disciplinary process, Lamdin is up for reappointment in October, which will put his conduct before the state Senate. Lamdin was appointed to the bench 10 years ago.
It is impossible to listen to the tape of what Judge Lamdin said to the DV survivor without thinking he’s an abusive, arrogant, insensitive, incompetent asshole. He put her through 30 minutes of pure hell and treated her like a criminal. He forced her to beg and to submit to endless humiliation before he finally issued the restraining order.
The DV perpetrator must have been ecstatic to witness his prey get brutalized by Judge Lamdin.
It is rare for a domestic violence shelter to support a survivor like the House of Ruth Maryland did in this case. It is rare to find top attorneys like Susan Elgin and Dorothy J. Lennig to lend their influence and legal muscle to a case. It is rare for a state senator to conduct an investigation like Sen. Jim Brochin did. It is rare for local media to engage in investigative journalism. It is rare for a major newspaper to write a Sunday editorial and support a DV survivor. And, it is extraordinarily rare for a judge to be subjected to this level of scrutiny. Will he Judge Lamdin be removed from the bench? We’ll see. There are still miles to go on this road, and only three judges have been removed in 40 years.
It certainly helps that the Washington Post is shining a bright light on Judge Lamdin’s abuse of power. The late, great Katherine Graham, who was a DV survivor, owned and operated the Washington Post and established a culture of journalistic integrity.
Fortunately, we still have a newspaper like the Washington Post which steadfastly adheres to their First Amendment duties. You may be interested in these recent editorial opinions:
Gender politics in Congress [VAWA funding]
You can read Mrs. Graham’s story: