D.C. Superior Court Judge Alfred Burka, one of the court's most controversial members because of his many allegedly intemperate remarks from the bench, is retiring Dec. 15 because of physical ailments, including high blood pressure.
Burka's comments -- such as the one he made to a black defendant in 1971 that "black is pretty ugly based on my experience with a few people" -- drew a sharp rebuke from the city's judicial watchdog panel about three years ago. However, the panel accepted Burka's promise that he would control such remarks in the future and reappointed him in a 15-year term.
Burka said last night he was leaving the court on his doctor's orders and because "I just am not in the phsycial shape to do what's right. This court cannot afford part-time judges."
Burka said he does not intend to practice law after his retirement, but intends to work with the city's criminal justice system by seeking reforms in the corrections and rehabiltation area. In addition, he said he plans to work with the American Academy of Judicial Education, a Washington-based group.
In reappointing Burka three years ago, the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure said it had received complaints from " a substantial number of person" that Burka appeared to be "totally lacking in judicial temperament."
The panel report said that persons described Burka as "erratic, totally unpredictable, offensive to counsel and clients and aberrational" It said the conduct involved Burka's "unnecessarily harsh and inappropriate language," and his expression of personal views concerning the "desirability and efficacy of the proceedings that were taking place in his court."
The panel said it had confronted Burka with those accusations, and the judge aggreed he had been wrong.He told them he would attempt to "restrain himself in the future."
Legal sources familiar with the tenure commission's work said the panel had examined Burka's conduct within the last year and had what one source termed "severe concerns" about his courtroon behavior once again.
Burkas, who noted that judges under investigation by the commission seldom know such a probe is in progress, said he was not aware of any current review of his work and that the tenure commission played no role in his decision to retire.
Since he was appointed to the bench by president Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, the 51-year-old native Washingtonian has been involved in several controversies surrounding his courtroom conduct.
In 1971, the judge told a defendant that if he were not personal friends with the man's attorney and did not value the lawyer's judgement, he would have sent the defendant to jail.
He viewed pornographic films on his own time over a six-month period in 1972 to determine the "community standards" that should be applied to an obscenity case. Another time, he ordered a court reporter to delete a page from a official transcript.
During the early years of antiwar protests, Burka told one arrested demonstrator brought before him that if she went to North Vietnam, "I doubt if you'd last one week. You'd be one head shorter."
After a large-scale undercover police operation in 1976, he criticized then D.C. police chief Maurice Cullinane and said the police could solve more serious crimes if they stopped arresting persons with "one marijuana cigarette" and "tourists who solicit scantily clad women."
Burka, who last year received the "Humanitarian of the Year" award from the Howard University alumni group, said he regretted leaving the court, but "trail courts are tough. You have to be in absolutely perfect physical shape."
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I said he was "sorry to see (Burka) leave. He's a very excellent individual. His physical problems dictated his coming out [of the court]."