Md. judge who deflated tire calls actions 'calculated'

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Charles County judge who deflated the tire of a 2004 Toyota Corolla parked without authorization in a restricted zone near the La Plata courthouse last summer testified in an administrative hearing Wednesday that his actions were "calculated" but also benign.

"It was not thoughtless. It was calculated in the sense I didn't want to make a big deal of it," Circuit Court Judge Robert C. Nalley testified. "I didn't want [the car] to be towed. I didn't want it to be ticketed."

Nalley testified in a public hearing in Annapolis before the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities. In January, the commission's legislative counsel filed two administrative charges against Nalley in the tire deflation Aug. 10.

Nalley, 66, is charged with violating the judicial canon that requires judges to observe "high standards of conduct." He is also charged with violating the canon that says judges shall respect and comply with the law at all times "in a manner that promotes public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary."

The commission can issue Nalley a public reprimand. It can also recommend tougher punishment, such as a suspension or removal from the bench. Any such recommendation would be considered by the state Court of Appeals.

Most of the 11 members of the commission asked Nalley pointed questions, and new details emerged about the incident.

The Toyota was in a spot designated for Nalley, though his name is not on it for security reasons, according to evidence presented at the hearing.

Nalley testified that he did not know to whom the car belonged. Its owner, Jean Washington, is a member of a part-time cleaning crew at the courthouse.

Asked whether he considered leaving a note on the car, Nalley replied that if he did, he rejected the idea. In deflating the tire, Nalley said, he wanted the driver to know of his "displeasure" that the Toyota was parked without authorization.

Nalley said his actions were "rash, foolish and inappropriate."

Washington has said she parked in the restricted area because her shift ends after dark and she didn't want to walk alone through an isolated parking lot.

Nalley also acknowledged that he had previously flattened someone else's tire. About 10 years ago, Nalley testified, he began to flatten the tire of a car in a church parking lot. The driver returned and interrupted him, Nalley said. Nalley said the incident was not reported to police.

In the equivalent of closing arguments, Steven P. Lemmey, investigative counsel for the commission, said Nalley "at minimum" should get a public reprimand to preserve confidence in the bench.

Nalley's attorney, William C. Brennan, said that a public reprimand would be appropriate and that sterner punishment was not warranted.

The commission will issue a written opinion, probably within 30 business days.

Within days of the deflation, Nalley resigned as chief administrative judge in Charles County. He was then suspended from presiding over criminal cases in adult and juvenile court.

In October, Nalley pleaded guilty in Charles County District Court to tampering with a motor vehicle. The judge gave Nalley probation before judgment, which means that Nalley will not have a conviction on his record if he successfully completes the terms of probation.

Nalley was also fined $500 and ordered to write a "heartfelt" letter of apology to Washington.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company