A state bar association survey of judges that questioned the competence of some of Maryland's trial lawyers has provoked an uncharacteristically bitter dispute within the state's legal establishment.
Since the survey was made public, many judges in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's have said they do not remember being interviewed for it, the Bar Association of Baltimore City has called for its suppression and the Supreme Bench of Baltimore has passed a special resolution blasting the report as "misleading and not accurate."
The survey, said to be based on interviews with four-fifths of Maryland's circuit and appeals court judges, concluded that 10 percent of the state's trial lawyers were chronic incompetents. It was particularly critical of Baltimore City attorneys, who as a group were termed substandard.
After the survey's conclusions were reported in The Washington Post, Chief Judge Anselm Sodaro of Baltimore's Supreme Bench denied the contention of the survey's authors that he and his 20 city bench colleagues had been interviewed.
Judge Sodaro recalled one 20-minute luncheon session in 1976 with two state bar officials during which the competence of the city bar was discussed. But he said that most of the city judges were not interviewed individually, as the survey claims.
After Sodaro relayed his concerns to several city lawyers, the local bar met in what was described by one participant as an "unusually hostile" session and passed a resolution calling the survey an "unwarranted attack."
"There is no indication that any of them (the Baltimore judges) made comments to justify the stinging, verbal indictment of the trial bar of Baltimore," the resolution said. It called for an investigation of the methods used for the survey and also demanded a public apology from the survey's authors - the state bar's Special Committee on Advocacy.
George B. Solter, a former city judge who was responsible for the committee's Baltimore interviews, said he stood by his work. "The report," he said, "is an accurate reflection of the results of my work."
However, the city's Supreme Bench met last week in special session and urged that the survey be withdrawn. The judges said they were disappointed by the survey's methodology and that they in fact believed Baltimore lawyers were as competent as those elsewhere in the state.
Meanwhile, circuit court judges in other jurisdictions - particularly Montgomery and Prince George's counties - began expressing their own doubts about the survey. In Montgomery, for instance, the survey states that all 10 circuit judges were interviewed. Four of those judges - Ralph G. Shure, John J. Mitchell, Philip M. Fairbanks and Plummer M. Shearin - said they did not recall being interviewed.
"My memory ain't worth a damn," said Judge Fairbanks, "but I think I would remember something like that. I have no recollection of it."
"I have no recollection of ever being so interviewed," said Judge Shure.
"Damned if I can recall," said Judge Shearin.
"Add me to your number," said Judge Mitchell. "I have no reason to duck it, but I don't remember being interviewed."
Attorneys John Michael Conroy and Roger Titus, who were responsible for interviewing the Montgomery judges, said they have notes to prove they spoke with every one of them.
"I don't want to say anything contrary to what the judges said," explained Conroy. "But I think maybe there's some disagreement as to what constitutes an interview."
In Prince George's County, attorney Karl Feissner, another member of the advocacy committee, conceded that six of the county's 10 current circuit judges were not interviewed during the survey. He said he conducted his interviews in 1975. Some of the current judges were not on the bench then, he said, while others were "hard to get."
Baltimore attorney John H. Mudd, chairman of the advocacy committee, refused in an interview last week to discuss the controversial report, which was not scheduled for publication until June. "It's been in the paper enough," he said. "I have nothing more to say."