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Even Judges Are Not Above the Law in Maryland Traffic Court

Washington Post, April 15, 2011:

A Montgomery County district judge was cited for reckless driving Thursday after an investigation into another driver’s claim of road rage that started outside a courthouse and nearly caused a 70 mph collision on Interstate 270 during rush hour, according to police records and officials.

Judge Brian G. Kim, 49, noted in Rockville legal circles for running a tight courtroom, paid a $510 fine Thursday. He declined to comment about the Oct. 18 incident, saying through his attorney that he considered the matter over.

The other driver, Rockville lawyer Rachel Viglianti, reported the incident as it occurred, calling 911 on her cellphone. She submitted a written account to state police investigators three days later

Out of respect for copyright’s fair use privilege I did not copy further, but go read the whole thing.

Several points.

1) Full disclosure: I have personally met Judge Kim and worked with him on a client consultation competition at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he and I were both judges of students’ performance in conducting professional consultations with mock clients. This may sound like an odd thing on which to have a competition, but it’s arguably just as important as testing a med student’s diagnostic skills. When I met him in person, he was congenial and professional. I have also appeared before Judge Kim on criminal and traffic matters, but not enough times to form a full opinion of his service on the bench.

2) I would be mortified to be either an attorney accusing a judge OR a judge facing an accusation by an attorney. I once defended a motorist accused of ramming another vehicle with his 18-wheeler deliberately; the alleged victim was an Anne Arundel County attorney and, unfortunately for my former client, attorneys tend to make very good witnesses (and that one attorney certainly did testify extremely well for the State.)

3) I feel bad for the young associate attorney/witness, who may be remembered in her firm and in the Bar far too long for being the accuser of a judge rather than for her presumed skill set, diligence or professional judgment.

4) Reckless driving is a SERIOUS offense in Maryland. It is not jailable, but it does carry 6 points, which is enough to get a motorist called in for a mandatory point system conference or a referral to traffic school. At 8 points, a motorist runs an immediate and serious risk of license suspension. Reckless driving is defined pretty stringently in Maryland and is often overcharged; it is quite common for a judge to find a motorist not guilty on reckless driving and instead to find the motorist guilty of mere negligent driving, which carries only 1 point. Unlike in Virginia, speed in Maryland is not per se reckless or even necessarily evidence of recklessness.

5) When any motorist pays a citation as did the accused motorist did in this case, the plea is guilty. The motorist gives up the right later to claim non-guilt; paying the citation means the admission of guilt and the points.

6) I do not know whether reckless driving  – now admitted through the payment of the citation in this case – constitutes an offense practically under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Judicial Disabilities Commission, which has the power to discipline Maryland judges. Arguably any violation of any law constitutes a violation of Rule 1.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct: “A judge shall comply with the law, including this Code of Judicial Conduct.”  I am not aware of a specific precedent in Maryland for reckless driving as a judicial conduct matter.