Judge admits behavior not so judicious
BERRYVILLE -- Judge Gerald Kent Crow has been reprimanded and censured by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct for investigating cases independently and retaliating against a lawyer who had filed a compliant on him, according to a statement from the JDDC.
"It is difficult for me to make a specific comment without consulting with the JDDC first to make sure I am not violating any terms of confidentiality or ethics," Crow said.
"Your willingness to accept that your actions were a violation of the code and your commitment to be more aware of issues listed above in the future have led the JDDC to refrain from recommending a more serious sanction, public charges or a public disciplinary hearing," wrote JDDC Executive Director David Sachar to the judge.
In one case, a traffic stop officers from Carroll County found controlled substances while searching the vehicle of Chris Mayes. The case was brought to public defender Robert "Beau" Allen and he moved for suppression of the evidence because Allen had stated the officers had detained Mayes past their 15-minute time limit before developing reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle.
"The argument was that the officers didn't have reasonable suspicion until background checks revealed that Mayes and the other occupants had drug crime histories," wrote Sachar. "Allen relied on dispatch logs that showed the background checks didn't come back for 24 minutes."
After this Crow recessed the suppression hearing and subpoenaed a witness who had a dispatch recording of the traffic stop. When Crow received the evidence he reviewed it privately and let all counsel know of his process and findings. Before the hearing Crow stated that he had discovered an error in the dispatch log, thus making Allen's statement incorrect. During the hearing the judge called for his witness over objections from both sides of the courtroom.
This behavior is considered not "appropriate judicial behavior" because the evidence was not brought to or from either of the attorneys on the case. Crow's actions can be perceived as an independent investigation and a better procedure would have been to have the prosecuting attorney get the tapes and witness, Crow admitted. The judge was also aggravated and confrontational with the attorneys, according to a JDDC press release.
Later Allen filed a complaint with the JDDC against Crow's actions in the Mayes case. After Crow had learned of this complaint he filed his own against Allen with the Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct for "misleading the court" in the Mayes case. The matter is still pending with the Committee on Professional Conduct.
"The judge stated on the record that he was considering turning Mr. Allen over to the CPC but did not do so until after he was aware of Mr.Allen's complaint against Judge Crow," according to a release from the JDDC. "The judge now admits that his actions could be viewed as retaliatory when taken in the context of timing."
In another case, the trial for Clint Blackstone's fourth DWI, Crow found discrepancies in the defense attorney's report of Blackstone's prior convictions. When Crow discovered this he had his assistant inform the defense attorney's assistant and later confronted the attorney himself in the courthouse before trial, according to the release form the JDDC. The defense attorney considered Crow's behavior inappropriate.
Crow was reprimanded for his actions in the Mayes and Blackstone cases and censured for his alleged retaliation against Allen. The censure and reprimand included several conditions that Crow must follow. For example, the reprimands state Crow must refrain from issuing orders in cases in which his employees or immediate family are involved, not entertain ex-parte communications and strive to appear separate from law enforcement agencies, not interfere with the administration of justice and he must cooperate with attorneys while maintaining decorum and dignity in court. The censure stated that Crow cannot by word, action or implication give the appearance of retaliation against a complaint in a JDDC case and he must refrain from threatening to "turn lawyers in to the CPC" without clear grounds."