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Why would a judge let air out of someone’s tire?

Aug 13, 2009 Why would a judge let air out of someone’s tire?

In a democratic society, no judge nor any other public official should escape scrutiny for their actions. In that light, this week, Charles County, Maryland, Circuit Court Administrative Judge Robert Nalley admitted very directly both to the press and to the regional chief administrative judge that he let air out of the tire of custodian Jean Washington (see her side here) for being parked where he said it should not have been parked in the courthouse parking lot. Before his admission came to light, a sheriff’s deputy said he caught the deflation on video.

My level of commentary on this case is limited by Judge Nalley’s courthouse being one in which my clients and I appear from time to time. In any event, what kind of criminal prosecution does Judge Nalley’s admitted action expose him to? Possibly the misdemeanor of reckless endangerment. Possibly attempted destruction of property for any reason a deflated tire could have led to damage to the tire or car; for the choate Maryland crime of property destruction, it appears that a conviction can be obtained for reasonably foreseeable destruction of property that is proximately caused by an intentional act — In re Taka C., 331 Md. 80, 626 A.2d 366 (1993). Possibly criminal harassment, depending on the wording of the county’s criminal harassment code provision. If there is any prosecution, so long as Judge Nalley remains on the bench, I surmise that the state prosecutor’s office, a different county prosecutor’s office, or a specially-appointed private practitioner would handle a prosecution. I do not think the admitted facts justify a prosecution of anybody, and doubt that an accident was likely with the air being released from just one tire, but all the time we see police and prosecutors overcharging and overprosecuting.

Of course, Judge Nalley also faces the risk of penalties to his professional position, and his reputation is now on the line from this story. For instance, the regional chief administrative judge, William Missouri, told the Washington Post: "As judges, all we have is the public’s trust … If we lose that trust, we have nothing. I can assure you, [trust] will be maintained." Jon Katz.  

ADDENDUM: Thanks to a listserv member for posting on this story.

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