Washington County judge Boone reprimanded over comments in court

Commission says remarks were 'undignified and disparaging'

Commission says remarks were 'undignified and disparaging'

January 30, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III has been reprimanded by the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities for referring to three women of color in the Public Defender's Office as "the Supremes" and for suggesting that a defendant who wanted to replace his public defender be given an "experienced male attorney."

Boone made the comments in open court April 24, 2007.

The judicial disabilities commission concluded that Boone's comments were "undignified and disparaging," according to a notice of the reprimand printed in the Jan. 18 edition of the Maryland Register.

The Maryland Register is published every two weeks as a temporary supplement to the Code of Maryland Regulations, according to its Web site.

"I have no defense," said Boone, who called the notice of the reprimand a fair document.

Boone appeared remorseful Tuesday afternoon as he discussed his comments.

He said he holds all three attorneys to whom he was referring with the "Supremes" comment in high regard, and he said each of the women has built a solid professional reputation.


The judge acknowledged that his comments were "highly suggestive, if not indicative ... of racial and sexual bias," he said.

"I lost it that day, at that time," Boone said. "At the end of the day, I felt terrible."

Nancy Forster, Public Defender for Maryland, filed the complaint about Boone's remarks July 2, 2007.

Forster has been with the Office of the Public Defender for 24 years and has never filed a complaint, she said Tuesday morning in a telephone interview.

She found it "very disturbing" that anyone in this day and age would refer to three African-American women as "the Supremes," Forster said.

Boone called Forster after she filed the complaint and apologized profusely, said Forster, whose office is in Baltimore.

The judge wanted Forster to know there would be no similar conduct in the future, he said Tuesday.

Judges must be held accountable, Boone said.

"The buck stops here when I'm wrong," said Boone, who said he never before had a sanctionable complaint filed against him.

Boone personally apologized to the women he referred to as "the Supremes." He met with each of them in June 2007 and offered to recuse himself from their future cases, according to a stipulation entered into by Boone and the Commission.

Offering to recuse himself from the women's cases was "absolutely the right thing to do," Forster said. The decision to ask the judge to recuse himself has been left up to the three attorneys, Forster said.

All three women have since appeared before Boone in court, he said.

"I appreciate their acceptance of my apology," he said.

Both "the Supremes" comment and a comment that a defendant be given a qualified male attorney came during a hearing for Jermaine Jackson, a defendant charged with first-degree assault and other crimes who wanted to replace the male public defender who had been representing him.

In a written response to the complaint Boone provided to the Commission Sept. 7, 2007, he acknowledged that his comments were inappropriate and insensitive, according to the stipulation.

Boone wrote in his response that his comments were intended to shield the three female attorneys from representing a very difficult, streetwise and manipulative defendant.

Jackson was called an "extraordinarily disruptive" inmate by Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael on April 9, 2007, after prison officials decided not to transport Jackson to court for a motions hearing because he was alleged to have caused an attack at the Washington County Detention Center that morning.

Jackson pleaded guilty in June 2007 to second-degree assault and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Washington County Circuit Administrative Judge Frederick C Wright III said Tuesday that the judicial disabilities commission has a fair process through which it issued the reprimand.

The reprimand won't affect Boone's effectiveness as a Circuit judge, Wright said.

The commission concluded that Boone's comments violated five canons of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct.

One of the canons violated deals with the integrity and independence of the judiciary, which states that a judge "shall observe high standards of conduct."

The next canon that was violated states that judges must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and, "shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary."

Boone's comments also violated a canon that states judges should perform their duties "without having or manifesting bias or prejudice, including bias or prejudice based on age, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status," as well as a canon imploring judges to be dignified.

Statement from Boone

A written response by Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III, as it appeared in the Jan. 18 edition of the Maryland Register:

"The bottom-line as to this incident is that despite my intentions and true feelings toward the three women, my in court comments were totally wrong and demeaning, having been made at a stressful time involving a very difficult defendant. Judges' conduct and statements must be above board and beyond reproach where perceptions by others is most important. I failed in maintaining proper decorum for which I feel ashamed and have attempted to make amends to those offended. Since then I review my conduct daily to learn from this incident and comport myself accordingly."

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