‘The public trust has been violated,’ Del. Don Dwyer said in explaining his effort to impeach a Maryland judge who ruled in favor of gay marriage.
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Friday, March 17, 2006
An anti-gay delegate in the Maryland House was defeated in his attempt to impeach a Baltimore Circuit Court judge who ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
The move by Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County) to throw Judge M. Brooke Murdock off the bench was defeated March 9 in the Judiciary Committee by a 19-3 vote.
"The public trust has been violated," Dwyer said when he proposed the impeachment, according to the Associated Press. "It is our duty, our obligation and our responsibility to hold the court accountable."
Delegates Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) and Tanya Shewell (R-Carroll County) voted with Dwyer on the impeachment proposal.
Dwyer is a co-sponsor of the failed anti-gay marriage amendment in the state. He introduced a resolution March 7 in the state House to remove Murdock from the bench after she ruled in January that a Maryland law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. She stayed the decision while an appeals court considers the case.
"He claims that the judge must be removed from office for ‘misbehavior in office, willful neglect of duty, and incompetency,’" gay Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery County) said in a statement. "It is a clear attempt to intimidate judges and to make the judiciary subservient to the legislature."
Michael Conroy, president of the Maryland State Bar Association, also criticized calls to impeach the judge.
No basis in fact or law exists to support any suggestion to impeach Murdock for her recent decision on same-sex marriage," said Conroy in a statement.
If Dwyer’s effort had succeeded it would have been only the second time in Maryland’s history that a judge was tossed off the bench. A judge was removed only once before, 150 years ago, for getting drunk and sleeping in court, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Former Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Murdock to the bench in September 1997. She then ran and won in a general election, as all circuit judges are required to do, said Rita Buettner, spokesperson for the Court Information Office of the Maryland Judiciary. Murdock was elected to a 15-year term.
After 15 years, Circuit Court judges can run for re-election in a general election, Buettner explained. There is no automatic review of Circuit Court judges during their 15-year tenure, she said.
While the accusation of "activist judges" has been hurled since the U.S. Supreme Court desegregated public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education, attempting to impeach judges is a new and increasingly popular tactic, said Michael Adams, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, a gay litigation group.
In California, there were unsuccessful attempts to impeach judges who ruled in favor of equal marriage rights and domestic partnership programs, Adams said.
In Iowa, after Judge Jeffrey Neary ruled that the state should recognize civil unions performed in Vermont he faced a very difficult re-election bid, Adams said. While the judge won, he had to spend more money to defeat the organized campaign against him, Adams said.
"He literally paid a price for the decision he issued," Adams said, adding that the threat of impeachment creates an intimidating atmosphere for judges.