A pair of organizations that combat violence against women have filed official complaints against a Maryland judge who performed a marriage ceremony two weeks ago for an alleged abuser and his victim so she wouldn’t have to testify at his trial.
The two groups, the House of Ruth Maryland and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, have asked the state’s Judicial Disabilities Commission to investigate Baltimore County District Court Judge G. Darrell Russell for his decision to perform the wedding.
Russell was presiding over a domestic abuse case during which a lawyer for the defendant, Tyrone Wood, asked the judge for postponement so that Wood and his girlfriend, whom he was accused of beating, could wed. Maryland law exempts married individuals from testifying against their spouse.
Rather than pause the case, Russell proceeded to conduct the ceremony in his own chambers. After acquitting Wood of the charges, the judge commented: "I found you not guilty, so I can't sentence you as a defendant in any crimes ... but earlier today, I sentenced you to life married to her,” according to a recording of the hearing posted by ABC news.
Russell, has since been reassigned to work in chambers, meaning he is no longer presiding over cases in court. The women’s groups are asking for a full investigation, which could potentially lead to his removal.
“The concern is when you have a victim in a domestic violence crime, that person is probably scared to come into court and potentially has felt a lot of pressure from the defendant to not go forward,” said Dorothy Lennig, director of the legal clinic at House of Ruth. “If you read the police report, she was really badly injured. For the judge to act like, here, we’ll help you get married so you can get out of it, I don’t think that’s how we want our judiciary to act.”
Chief Judge Ben Clyburn of the Maryland District Court declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate. Russell, who has been a judge at the court since 1990, was not in chambers and could not be reached for comment.