Former D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert H. Campbell, while serving on the bench, accepted more than $19,000 in interest free loans from Washington lawyer and real estate broker H. Max Ammerman between 1974 and 1978.
Ammerman, a millionaire who was one of the key developers of the Tyson's Corner Shopping Center, wrote off the entire debt in November 1979 after he received $26,500 in legal fees on a real estate deal that had been referred to him by Campbell.
"That was a nice fee and as far as I was concerned he squared his account with me," Ammerman said yesterday in a telephone interview. Ammerman declined to discuss the details of the real estate matter except to say that the party involved had approached Campbell on the matter, and Campbell subsquently recommended that Ammerman handle the case.
The referral was made after Campbell retired from the bench in December 1978 in the face of an investigation of alleged ticket-fixing by the judge. The former judge, Larry A. Campbell (no relation to the judge), who is general manager of Excavation Construction Inc. of Bladensburg, and the firm itself are currently on trial in U.S. District Court here on bribery, racketeering and conspiracy charges stemming from that investigation.
Ammerman said yesterday that he never practiced before Campbell when Campbell was a judge, either in his courtroom or in his chambers.
The D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, which disciplines the conduct of Superior Court judges, discourages such business transactions between judges and lawyers because of the potential for an appearance of impropriety.
The loans from Ammerman to Campbell were disclosed in the court proceedings. Campbell is accused of accepting $10,000 in bribes and goods and services from the construction firm in exchange for his favorable treatment of overweight truck tickets issued to it.
Some of the Ammerman loans are listed in a detailed anaylsis of the former judge's finances, which was prepared by FBI and IRS agentsand submitted to the jury as prosecution evidence.
The analysis includes listings of other loans made to Campbell and covers the 30-month period from January 1975 to June 1977 when the alleged bribes occurred.
The loans are not a subject of the five-week-old trial. But the financial information that includes them has been hotly-disputed by defense lawyers and is viewed as a critical part of the government's attempt to prove that Campbell was living well beyond his means and that he was motivated to accept bribes to cover his debts.
Ammerman, who said he has been interviewed six times by law enforcement authorities about the loans to Campbell, said that the former judge was a member of a "a very small circle of people" to whom he has lent money, ususally at no interest.
"I'm not a banker. I don't charge interest to any of my friends," Ammerman said. "When I have money, if they want to borrow it, they can have it." He said he has made personal loans of up to $100,000.
Ammerman, who said he has practiced law in Washington for 49 years, said "I stopped trying cases long before [Campbell] got on the bench" in 1972.
He said his friendship with the former judge began while Campbell was a city prosecutor in the D.C. Corporation Counsel's office. Ammerman said that the loans to Campbell were made by check and recorded in regular bookkeeping ledgers, which have been made available to the prosecution in the Campbell case.
Sources close to the tenure commission, which has the power to discipline and remove judge's from the local bench, said that it is "not a good practice for there to be business dealings" between judges and lawyers, even when the chances are remote that the lawyer would ever appear in the judge's courtroom.
In situations involving loans, these sources said the commission would be concerned about why a judge would solicit loans from a private attorney, instead of from a bank, and would question whether such a request from a judge would place the lawyer in a position where the lawyer felt compelled to make the loan.
Superior Court judges file annual financial statements with the commission and are required to disclose any liabilities in excess of $5,000. Failure to make full disclosure to the commission is grounds for removal from the bench, sources said. That portion of the judges' filings are not open to public inspection.
Government prosecutors are using the financial evidence to try to buttress what they consider the most crucial points in their case: first, that the former judge lived expensively and needed money to pay the bills, and second, that check requests from the account of a former Excavation Construction company official nearly concided with unexplained deposits of cash into Campbell's bank accounts.
For example, the grand jury has charged that in April 1975 Campbell accepted a $2,500 bribe from Excavation Construction by way of the former official, Robert Payne Jenkins, whom the government has labeled the company's "trusted bagman."
An analysis of Jenkins' requests for company funds shows that he requested a $2,500 check in that month and Campbell's bank records show that he made two cash deposits totalling $2,000 during the four days following Jenkin's request.
Similarly, records show that in March 1976 Jenkins asked for $800 and Campbell made two cash deposits totaling $700 shortly afterwards. Six of these types of alleged exchanges are listed in the indictment as bribes paid to Campbell.
An analysis of Campbell's income and expenditures from January 1975 through June 1977 showed that he spent $79,397 more than he received from his sources of income known to federal investigators, such as his own salary as a judge and a part-time law professor. Of that figure, $41,637 was covered with loans, including about $7,000 lent by attorney Ammerman during that 30-month period.
That left about $37,000 in expenditures that went beyond Campbell's known sources of money, the analysis said.The prosecution contends that its evidence will show that at least $10,000 of that cash was paid to Campbell in bribes from Excavation Construction Inc. in exchange for the former judge's favorable treatment of the firm's overweight truck tickets.
The source for the remainder of that cash remains unexplained, the government contends.