Charles County judge pleads guilty to deflating tire

By Christy Goodman and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009; B03

A longtime Charles County judge who deflated the tire of a car that belonged to a woman who parked in a restricted zone outside the La Plata courthouse pleaded guilty Wednesday to tampering with a motor vehicle.

Circuit Court Judge Robert C. Nalley, 66, acknowledged that he let the air out of a tire on the 2004 Toyota Corolla owned by Jean Washington, 51, who works part time at the courthouse as a member of an evening cleaning crew.

District Court Judge Robert C. Wilcox gave Nalley probation before judgment, which means Nalley will not have a conviction on his record if he completes the terms of his probation. Wilcox, who was specially assigned to the case from Anne Arundel County, ordered Nalley to pay a $500 fine, which Nalley paid yesterday, and write a "heartfelt" letter of apology to Washington.

Nalley's attorney, William C. Brennan, said the letter might be delivered to Washington as early as Thursday. That would essentially complete Nalley's probation, Brennan said.

Nalley entered the plea in the La Plata courthouse where he served as chief administrative judge of the Circuit Court for 14 years. He resigned from the post Aug. 13, three days after he deflated Washington's tire in front of two Charles sheriff's deputies, one of whom captured Nalley's actions on a cellphone camera.

Nalley told Wilcox he was "profoundly sorry" and "ashamed of this conduct." He also apologized for the embarrassment his actions caused his community and his family.

"My client accepts full responsibility in this case," Brennan told Wilcox. "We offer no justification, rationalization or excuse." Brennan said Nalley understood the seriousness of his conduct and the potential danger he had put Washington in by deflating her tire.

Nalley's tone yesterday was far different from the one he had the day after the incident, when he told a reporter for a local newspaper that not only had he deflated Washington's tire, but that it wasn't the first time he had done so. He told William D. Missouri, chief administrative judge of Maryland's 7th Circuit, which includes Charles, that he did not think the incident was a "big deal."

Washington, who was alerted to Nalley's actions by a county sheriff's deputy, raced outside and drove her car to another parking area. She didn't notice the tire until another deputy told her that the rear right tire was flat.

Washington said she parked in a restricted parking area because her work shift typically ends about 8:30 p.m. and she wanted to park close to the building to avoid walking alone at night through an empty parking lot.

Washington declined to comment on Nalley's plea.

Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John Maloney, who was assigned to prosecute the case after Charles County State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. recused himself, said Washington did not want Nalley to get "any more or any less" punishment than any other defendant facing a similar charge.

"To her credit, she is not holding any animosity" toward Nalley, Maloney said.

Veteran defense attorneys said a finding of probation before judgment for the misdemeanor charge Nalley faced is typical for first-time offenders.

On Aug. 14, Missouri suspended Nalley from hearing criminal cases. Nalley continues to preside over civil cases. Missouri said he cannot say whether Nalley will be allowed to return to criminal work until the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities completes an investigation of Nalley sparked by the tire incident.

The commission has not filed charges against Nalley, nor has it scheduled public hearings into his conduct. It could reprimand Nalley, but does not have the authority to remove him from the bench.

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