United States: Judicial Misconduct in the State of Maryland - The Peacock Case

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Action Number: 
7.1
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Date: 
1 Dec 1994

On October 17, 1994, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland, Judge Robert E. Cahill sentenced Kenneth Peacock for killing his wife Sandra on February 9, several hours after he found her in bed with another man. In delivering his decision at the sentencing hearing, Judge Cahill said, "I seriously wonder how many married men...would have the strength to walk away...without inflicting some corporal punishment, whatever that punishment might be. I shudder to think what I would do." The judge gave Peacock the minimum sentence required under sentencing guidelines, three years, half of which he suspended. He also recommended that Peacock be granted immediate work release.

In his sentencing decision, Judge Cahill made many other statements indicating his sympathy for the defendant and his own sense that Kenneth Peacock had justification for killing his wife. He said, for example, "I cannot think of a circumstance whereby personal rage is uncontrollable greater than this for someone who is happily married...To be betrayed in your personal life when you are out working to support the spouse under heightened circumstances of this case are almost unmanageable." He also repeatedly referred to Peacock as a "noncriminal," and voiced his reluctance to impose any prison sentence.

The Women's Law Center in Baltimore, Maryland filed a complaint against Judge Cahill with the Select Committee on Gender Equality, immediately after his decision was reported. This Committee considers complaints of gender bias against judges and attorneys in Maryland. On October 19, 1994, the Select Committee on Gender Equality issued a press release, noting that a complaint had been received and would be investigated. The press release stated "At the very least, the remarks appear to reflect insensitivity to the serious issue of domestic violence." The Women's Bar Association of Maryland also took action following the Peacock sentencing decision and appointed a special counsel to handle other complaints against Judge Cahill. In a news release, the special counsel reportedly said, "it is not unheard of for attorneys and litigants to leave Judge Cahill's courtroom in tears based upon his abusive treatment." Complaints have reportedly been made in fifteen cases involving Judge Cahill.

Judge Cahill's statements in the Peacock case indicate a disregard for violence against women, and a devaluation of the life of Sandra Peacock. Such statements perpetuate the notion that women, particularly married women, are property and that the men they are with have the right to inflict violence on them, even to kill them. When such statements are made by a judge acting in official capacity, they represent state authority and are particularly dangerous to the rule of law and the fundamental right of all women to equality and equal protection of the law. Equal protection of the law is an international human right set forth in Article 7 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article 46 of the Constitution of the State of Maryland.

Judge Cahill is not the only judge in the State of Maryland who has made statements in court expressing sympathy towards male defendants accused of crimes involving violence against women. According to press reports, in April 1993 Judge Thomas J. Bollinger sentenced Lawrence Gillette to probation for raping an eighteen year-old employee who had passed out in his bathroom and been carried to and left in his bed. Judge Bollinger characterized the situation the defendant found himself in as "the dream of a lot of males." Following a complaint by the Women's Law Center to the Select Committee on Gender Equality, the case was referred to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, the authority responsible for investigating cases of judicial misconduct. In November 1994, the Commission reprimanded Judge Bollinger, describing his statements in the Gillette case as "so improvidently phrased as to create a general impression that he was...insensitive to women's rights and the obligation of the judicial system to afford women the protection of the law by punishing men who commit sexual offenses against them." Despite these findings, Judge Bollinger referred to himself in a public statement as "having been exonerated by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities of any misconduct."

What You Can Do: 

Join the efforts of women's organizations in Maryland to protest Judge Cahill's demonstrated insensitivity to the most extreme violence against women. Write to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, asking them to investigate the Peacock case and take appropriate disciplinary action to demonstrate that the State of Maryland is committed to equal protection of the law, including the protection of women from domestic violence. Acknowledge the efforts of the Commission to reprimand Judge Bollinger for his conduct in the Gillette case but note that these efforts do not appear to have had much effect on the judge, indicating that more forceful action might be required in such cases. Contact the media and ask them to publicize the case of Judge Cahill. Send copies of your letters, and of any press clippings, to the Select Committee on Gender Equality and to the Women's Law Center.

The Honorable Theodore G. Bloom, Chair
Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
Courts of Appeal Building
361 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Select Committee on Gender Equality
Courts of Appeal Building
361 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

The Women's Law Center
P.O. Box 5362
Lutherville, MD 21094-5362