A Baltimore County judge has agreed to a five-day unpaid suspension,
admitting that he was wrong to summarily find 28 people in contempt for
courtroom disruptions including two dozen fined and threatened with
jail time after their cellphones sounded in his courtroom.
District Judge Norman Stone III also will be on administrative probation
for two years.
Maryland's top court signed off late Friday on the agreement between
Stone, 54, and the Commission on Judicial Disabilities. His attorney
acknowledged that Stone had exceeded his authority by sentencing people
for contempt without allowing them to fully defend themselves in court.
At least two people were jailed for slamming doors.
"Judge Stone agreed that the 28 cases provide clear and convincing
evidence that he violated the Rules of Judicial Conduct and engaged in
conduct that was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice,"
the disciplinary agreement states.
Stone, a District Court judge since 1998 and the son of state Sen.
Norman R. Stone Jr., could not be reached for comment.
"He takes this all very seriously, obviously. He realizes he has made
some calls that were out of the strike zone, if you will," said his
attorney, David B. Irwin. "He'd been 14 years without any sanctions."
The courtroom incidents took place over about nine months between May
2011 and last February, according to documents released by the
Commission on Judicial Disabilities. The commission, which investigates
judges and can discipline them, accepts complaints from people, but also
can act on its own. It is unclear how the commission became aware of the
One person who used his cellphone in court had an additional two months
in jail tacked on to his sentence of six months on a drug charge,
according to a transcript. The contempt charge was later dismissed,
according to court records.
And as a man left the courtroom after Stone sentenced his daughter to 15
days in jail on a drug charge, the judge accused him of slamming the
door and sent him to jail as well.
"Sentence of the court is 30 days in the Baltimore County Detention
Center starting today. That's my standard sentence for door slammers,"
Stone said, after the man apologized. Court records show he appealed and
the case was dismissed.
Everyone who had only a cellphone infraction paid a fine by the day's end.
A transcript points to Stone being exasperated by the phones, which
people are told to turn off in courts around the state. But not everyone
does, and people routinely are told to surrender their ringing
electronic devices temporarily but their liberty isn't at risk.
"Now listen, I'm sorry to do this, but if I don't draw a line
everybody's going to be texting and talking and the courtroom will just
be an unmanageable place," he told one apparent cellphone offender. "All
right, the fine is due by four o'clock today. You get your phone back
when the fine's paid. Failure to pay the fine will result in a warrant
and you'll serve the 10 days. OK?"
Irwin said the judge has changed his policy.
"Now he says please turn your phone off or take it outside," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.