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.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Williams is lucky he doesn’t face another retention election until 2020. He’ll be hoping the voters of Baltimore have short memories and allow him to keep his job.
What about the role of the media in all of this? Judge Williams had to contend with a variety of issues surrounding this case. Not only did Mosby attempt to poison the well against the officers with her public proclamations, she had all but declared them guilty before they even went to trial. Add to that a complicit media that began making her a star before the trial began. NY Magazine called her a “certified bad*ss”. The New York Daily News said she “gave a broken city hope through justice” and said she was a “law enforcement star”. The New Republic declared her a “new hero”.
How did Judge Williams react to all of this? He stayed calm and did his job, cutting through all the fluff. He stated during their first hearing “Is it the prosecutor’s job to calm the city or to prosecute cases?” Right on your Honor.
Judge Williams deserves all the praise heaped upon him – not because of the fact that the police officers were found not guilty, but because he took control from the outset, and did not allow an inexperienced prosecutor and aspiring political star from turning justice into a mockery in an effort to advance her own career.
Judge Willams is a credit to his race. SA Mosby is not.
I’m glad that Judge Williams ruled as he has based on the evidence offered…
Officers Nero and Goodson received proper justice that a jury trial would never have granted, given the atmosphere…
Marilyn Mosby and the attorneys of the State’s Attorney office should be tried next for their parts in trying to “railroad” the officers…
The judge is merely doing his job and, as such, he deserves no praise.
Sometimes, doing you job the right way when crap is swilling all around you is indeed praiseworthy. Only someone who has their own political/social agenda would say otherwise.
Good points. I wish Mosby had the integrity to follow them.
Under these circumstances, just doing the job required superhuman patience and wisdom. You are just flat out wrong.
Clearly, there is an acute need here for independent, objective, unbiased legal thought. The prosecutors, now accused of ethical lapses, will dig themselves, and the City, all the way to Beijing, if the shovel isn’t taken from them. A special prosecutor should be brought in, with a mandate to reassess this entire situation. The civil rights claims asserted by the defendants will end up in federal court, before predominately White jurors. Awards for compensatory damages and attorney’s fees could be catastrophic. The possibility of buying peace with these defendants, including dismissal of the criminal charges, should be vigorously explored.