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An Anne Arundel County judge chastised and badgered an attorney who filed a complaint against him in a breach of judicial conduct, an investigator for the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities determined.

The commission investigated a misconduct complaint against Circuit Court Judge Paul G. Goetzke filed earlier this year. The investigator determined he used a “demeaning” and “sarcastic” tone during a 55 minute meeting with the attorney in the middle of a separate case, according to court documents.

The investigation found Goetzke violated judicial standards on impartiality and fairness, bias, prejudice and harassment and decorum, demeanor and communications with jurors, among others. He has served on the Circuit Court since 2004 and previously was an attorney for the city of Annapolis.

Goetzke denied engaging in misconduct in a response to the investigation. Goetzke’s attorney, William Brennan Jr., declined to comment on the findings.

Questions about campaign payments in the 2016 Anne Arundel County judicial race have made their way to three state level oversight entities, according to documents shared with The Capital. He then questioned Warren’s about the complaint as well as her motion to revise a previous order, the subject of the hearing. In her motion, Warren claimed Goetzke violated rules of judicial conduct.

“You filed a claim against me?” Goetzke said, according to commission’s finding. “I want you to tell me here in court where you’re appearing to tell me what you believe would justify that accusation.”

After Warren told Goetzke she did not feel comfortable discussing the complaint with the commission, Goetzke responded.

“Then don’t allege it,” Goetzke said.

Goetzke continued his questioning for almost an hour, according to commission documents.

“What is it?” he said. “Am I an abusive judge? Am I an understanding judge?”

The complaint against Goetzke follows a story by The Baltimore Sun on the lack of transparency surrounding discipline and effectiveness of Maryland judges. Circuit Court judges such as Goetzke serve 15 year terms and it can be difficult to determine their effectiveness. Maryland, unlike 17 other states and the District of Columbia, does not evaluate judges. Six states post those evaluations publicly.

Marylanders turn to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities when they believe a judge has engaged in misconduct. Complaints against judges are not made public until the commission takes action. Then charges, response to those charges and a hearing date are posted on the commission website.

An arbiter has dismissed a complaint by a Baltimore lawyer that he was treated unfairly while being vetted for possible appointment to the Anne Arundel Circuit Court bench.

Steven Platt, a former Prince George’s County judge appointed to arbitrate the complaint, wrote in a lengthy opinion handed.

(Phil Davis)

Circuit Court judges are appointed by governors from a list of candidates compiled state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. Those judges then go before voters in the next election, when they must beat challengers in a primary and general election. Goetzke was one of two challengers in 2004 who unseated judges appointed by former governor Parris N. Glendenning.

The Maryland Bar Association has expressed opposition to contested elections because voters may feel obliged to vote by party or even in alphabetical order. The association argued this was due to the electorate not being familiar with judges on the ballot.

In 2016, four sitting judges, all Republican, ran on a slate together. The four defeated a single Democratic challenger in the November 2016 general election. The judges received support from Democrats and Republicans alike although some complained party politics played a role in traditionally non partisan elections.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected. An investigator for the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities has charged Goetzke with judicial misconduct.
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