Freddie Gray Case: Judge Williams applied the law, not emotion - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Freddie Gray Case: Judge Williams applied the law, not emotion

Judge Barry G. Williams (Maryland Judiciary photo)

By Barry Rascovar

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.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.

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.

Sparkling example

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 He can be contacted

About the author

Maryland Reporter is a daily news website produced by journalists committed to making state government as open, transparent, accountable and responsive as possible – in deed, not just in promise. We believe the people who pay for this government are entitled to have their money spent in an efficient and effective way, and that they are entitled to keep as much of their hard-earned dollars as they possibly can. Contact the author.

One Comment

  1. Law Professor John Banzhaf says:

    Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and other attorneys involved in the prosecutions of Baltimore police officers may soon face disbarment proceedings – as well as legal actions aimed at holding Baltimore, as well as the individual prosecutors, civilly liable for the torts of malicious prosecution and abuse of process – based in large part on the lengthy findings of fact by Judge Barry Williams in the two most recent criminal cases.
    Rule 3.8(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct [RPC] for attorneys requires that a prosecutor refrain from prosecuting a charge unless it is supported by probable cause, while national standards establish that a prosecution should only proceed if there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a conviction.
    It also appeared then from the timing that there may have been a rush to judgment, and that Mosby’s extensive public remarks – which may have independently violated RPC 3.6(b) and 3.8(f) – arguably also indicated that the charges against the six officers were brought not because they were warranted by the weight of the evidence, but rather to quell unruly crowds and try to prevent further street violence.
    Regardless of the strength of the cases at the time they were announced – i.e., whether fair prosecutors could then reasonably believe there was sufficient evidence to support convictions beyond a reasonable doubt – any such belief has been very substantially weakened if not destroyed by the two recent decisions finding that there was insufficient evidence to support any of the many charges.
    The careful and impartial weighting by a respected trial judge of all of the evidence which was presented at two trials, and finding it grossly insufficient to convict on any charge, is far more important and persuasive than the prior conjecture of so-called experts made months earlier largely on the basis of the words of the criminal complaints, and conjecture about what the evidence might be..
    The two judicial decisions could by themselves, if filed with the appropriate bar authorities, constitute a very strong case for disbarment of the attorneys involved. If, added to this was a copy of her public statements, the case for disbarment could be overwhelming.
    And the mere filing of a non-frivolous bar complaint can create major legal and public relations problems for lawyers since “innocent till proven guilty” doesn’t always seem to apply.
    Although the Baltimore prosecutors may have been unduly optimistic in initially thinking that they could prove their criminal cases beyond a reasonable doubt, they have a clear legal duty to re-evaluate the strength of their cases after a judge just ruled, in what many believed was Baltimore’s very strongest case against any officer, that the evidence wasn’t even close to meeting the very high criminal standard.
    Interestingly, there appear to be many similarities between the Mosby and Nifong situations, noting that Nifong’s refusal to dismiss the Duke rape cases, even as the initially weak evidence was eviscerated by new developments, resulted in him being removed, disbarred, and eventually jailed.
    Also, the judge found in the Duke case, as Judge Williams found in the Baltimore case, that the prosecutor had improperly if not unlawfully withheld evidence from the defense.
    Moreover, with Nifong the Justice Department reported that it might also investigate, and the North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Committee unanimously voted to disbar him, after receiving a complaint accusing him of making public statements that were “prejudicial to the administration of justice” and of engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
    Moreover, Nifong was eventually driven into bankruptcy, largely because of six different $30 million civil law suits filed against him by the six lacrosse players.
    So, if Mosby’s statement is construed as admitting that the charges were brought in the hopes of restoring peace rather than because the evidence warranted them; if she led her own investigation or unreasonably interfered with other’s (such as the medical examiner’s); if she continued the charges once it became clear – in view of the judge’s findings – that they could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; and especially if she kept the charges pending for political or public relations reasons, and not legal ones, she could disbarred and/or found personally liable in civil law suits.
    Moreover, those prosecutors and other attorneys who are assisting Mosby must make their own determination if they reasonably believe, especially in light of the judge’s findings, that there is still evidence sufficient to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt, or likewise face disbarment proceedings of their own.
    The arguments that “I was just doing my job,” or that “I was just following orders,” didn’t work at Nuremberg, and they will not work in a disbarment proceeding or civil suit.
    Each attorney who participates has an independent legal obligation to follow the RPC and other national standards to insure that wrongful unwarranted prosecutions do not continue, he argues.



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