By Barry Rascovar
If there is a bright spot in the widespread damage done to Baltimore and Maryland by the Freddie Gray conflagration and its aftermath, it is the sterling performance of Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams.
While Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby placed politics and placating the city’s riotous crowd above her duties to pursue prosecutions based on rigorously impartial and complete investigations, Williams did the opposite.
He ruled only on the basis of facts and the law. He didn’t let mob psychology or the passions of protesters seeking a scapegoat deter him from doing his duty as an officer of the court.
He wasn’t swayed by pressure from fellow African-Americans demanding convictions of police officers because someone had to be held responsible for Freddie Gray’s unexplained death after a ride in the back of a police paddy wagon.
He didn’t take Mosby’s bait to rush to judgment against the officers on the basis of her prosecutors’ suspect conspiracy theories, novel legal theories and “logical inferences.”
Instead, Williams quietly and sternly administered the law to the nth degree. He gave weight only to solid, verifiable facts, not suspicions.
He took seriously the legal precept that the accused can’t be found guilty unless there is so much evidence there is no longer “reasonable doubt.”
All this comes from a lawyer who spent much of his career in the U.S. Justice Department investigating and prosecuting bad cops who gave prisoners “rough rides,” denied defendants their legal rights or harmed minorities in their custody.
Williams has been a sparkling example of how a judge is supposed to act in trials large and small. Like Detective Joe Friday in the old TV series “Dragnet,” Williams wants, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Then he applies the factual presentation of defense and prosecution lawyers against what is written in the Annotated Code of Maryland and in appellate court interpretations of the law.
That’s the way justice is supposed to be meted out in the United States. The highly politicized rulings of the current Supreme Court don’t appeal to Williams. He remains faithful to the law, not emotions or social movements of the moment.
Such bedrock reliance on fact-based and statute-based decisions deserves widespread applause.
Indeed, the next time U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is asked to recommend a name to the White House for a federal judicial post, Williams should be on Cardin’s short list. And the next time Gov. Larry Hogan is in the market for an appellate judge from Baltimore, Williams should get top consideration.
Faithful to his oath
There’s a reason Williams was selected to preside over a complex series of hyper-sensitive trials. He runs a strict, no-nonsense courtroom. He’s super-smart. He doesn’t get caught up in courthouse politics or appeasing an angry populous. He remains faithful to his oath to apply the law fairly and without partiality.
Williams has more Freddie Gray cases on his docket – unless Mosby drops the cases rather than risk looking inept and foolish for stubbornly pursuing cases that already seem to have more holes than Swiss cheese.
Within legal circles, Mosby’s reputation has taken a mighty hit. Her hurried prosecutions are imploding. She doesn’t appear up to the job. Yet she should have no trouble getting reelected given her star power within the city’s African-American community. She almost certainly will be challenged, though.
More serious is her frayed – some argue broken – relationship with the city’s police department. It’s a situation of her own making that could lead to future blow-ups and deep divisions hurting her ability to piece together winnable cases.
How Baltimore’s all-but-certain next mayor, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, handles this delicate and highly explosive situation could determine whether the city’s criminal justice system wages an effective fight against those bent on victimizing and harming Baltimore residents.
That issue has been ignored amid the media and political focus on Freddie Gray.
Maybe it’s time for cooler heads to prevail. City officials certainly could take their cue from the way Judge Williams objectively handles the “hot-potatoes” tossed into his courtroom.