Lawyer Challenges Judge in Md. Court

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Defense attorneys gathered in a courtroom in Annapolis yesterday in a show of support for one of their own, a lawyer who says he was fined a not-so-princely sum -- $10 -- simply for making arguments on behalf of a client.

The lawyer in question is Drew Cochran. His client is a teenage boy who loaded marbles into a paintball gun and pelted a passing car.

The case, a juvenile matter, appeared headed to settlement back in April. Counseling, community service and a restitution payment of $500 would be sufficient, both sides agreed.

But Judge Paul Goetzke, newly elected to the bench on a tough-on-crime campaign platform, had a different idea. He signed the agreement, but he upped the amount, with little in the way of explanation, to $750.

Late that month, Cochran filed a request with the court to have the original amount restored. A hearing was held in June, and four days later, Goetzke issued a written order denying the request and imposing sanctions, to be paid to the Circuit Court for the Anne Arundel County library fund.

He ordered that Cochran and his client pay the library fund $10. The order, though it does not explain the penalties, faults Cochran and the teenager for exaggerating the teenager's financial contribution to the care of his 5-month-old son.

The sum was small, certainly any lawyer would agree, but principles were at stake. Cochran got himself an attorney, Laura Robinson, and appealed the order.

Yesterday, in front of a three-judge panel, Robinson, supported by the county's top public defender and even the state's, argued that Goetzke lacked legal authority for the sanction, which she said "gave the appearance of vindictiveness" and "suggested an arrogance" and an "intent to intimidate."

The lawyer-spectators walked from the courtroom a bewildered bunch. "I've been doing this for 20 years, and I've never heard of anything like this," said Brian Denton, the county's top public defender.

Later, Goetzke declined to comment on the case, citing restrictions surrounding juvenile matters. "Drew's a good lawyer, and I like him," Goetzke said in his chambers, adding that he's known Cochran's family socially for 20 years.

The three-judge panel promised to issue its ruling in writing.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company