Prince George's County Attorney Robert Ostrom privately suggested to a judge hearing an emotional case on the county's abortion ban that a "Jewish conspiracy" was dominating the legal proceedings and told the judge, who is Jewish, that he should consider taking himself off the case.
In addition to the judge, the lawyer opposing Ostrom in the case, and a physician testifying against the county position, are both Jewish. Ostrom is not.
The remark by Ostrom sent a visibly upset Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chasanow scurrying out of his chambers, exclaiming, "I've just been accused of being part of a Jewish conspiracy. Get a court reporter, get a court reporter," according to one account.
Ostrom, who was appointed by County Executive Lawrence Hogan two years ago to head the county's large legal staff and has earned a reputation for a hot temper and acerbic wit, said his remark 10 days ago to Chasanow was intended as a joke.
According to Chasanow, Ostrom told him: "Everybody's getting emotional. You seem to be getting emotional, too. Maybe you should consider recusing (removing) yourself (from the case). You guys act like this is a Jewish conspiracy."
"I said it in a smart-alecky way that you would use with a friend who you were peeved at," Ostrom said. "The reporting of this is making a mountain out of a molehill and taking the whole matter completely out of context. There is no justification for perpetuating the matter."
His remark came during a break in a case in which a pregnant woman, confined in the psychiatric ward of a county hospital, sought an exemption from a county ban on abortions in county facilities.
The judge said that despite his initial anger and decision to summon a court reporter, he took the whole matter as a "joke gone flat. I was furious (at the time). It was a bad taste remdark. I've known Bob (Ostrom) socially and professionally for 15 years. I know he's not bigoted and I know he's not anti-Semitic."
However, because of publicity surrounding the remark, Chasanow said yesterday he is considering removing himself from the "Mark Roe" abortion case and possibly others, currently before him.
Stephen Friedman, the atorney representing the woman's doctor and a lawyer on the other abortion cases, said yesterday that he would not comment on the incident. It occurred in Chasanow's chambers and Friedman was not present at the time. He did say he would prefer that Chasanow, who has twice overturned the ban in favor of his clients, continued to hear the cases.
Friedman said he did not think it was his place to ask Ostrom to remove himself from the case. "I'd rather not comment on it (Ostrom's statement). It's between him and his conscience."
The incident occurred the day after Thanksgiving, not long after a hearing on the "Mary Roe" case began before Chasanow. The hearing, which included testimony by Dr. Robert Weinfeld, rapidly grew heated, with Ostrom referring once to Friedman as the "the abortionist's lawyer," according to accounts.
Noting the rising tempers, Chasanow asked for a brief adjournment of the case in order to speak with the lawyers in chambers. Ostrom arrived in Chasanow's office first and asked to speak with him privately in his chambers. c
The two men closeted themselves, and it was then that Ostrom made the remark.
Chasanow charged from his chambers and into the anteroom, where Dr. Weinfeld was making a telephone call, repeated the comment and called for the court reporter.
Friedman and other attorneys in the case were then called into Chasanow's office where Ostrom was asked, but refused, to put his comments on the official record. Chasanow said yesterday that he had called in the court reporter to "needle" Ostrom and because he wanted Ostrom's request that the judge consider taking himself off the case on the record.
After the conversation, both Ostrom and Friedman said they wanted Chasanow to finish hearing the "Mary Roe" case. They returned to the courtroom, and after testimony and arguments, Chasanow agreed to allow the young woman to have an abortion to the county facility where she was hospitalized.
Chasanow said yesterday that he was satisfied at the time with how the matter was resolved, but because of the publicity over the incident believed it was probable that he may have to remove himself from the case and others dealing with the abortion ban.