Prince George's County lawyers and judges are reacting with surprise to news of a State Police investigation into the conduct of District Judge Sylvania W. Woods.
Woods, 55, is accused of collecting funds from county lawyers for the House of Delegates campaign of his son, Sylvania Jr., last fall.
But lawyers and judges this week repeatedly described Judge Woods as an honest, fair judge and maintained the eight-year veteran of the bench is probably guilty of only poor judgment.
Said Karl Feissner, president of the county bar association, "Motivation and intent would be significant factors" in any investigation of the judge's conduct. "I couldn't in my wildest dreams conceive any evil motive or intent in this judge."
Some of Judge Woods' colleagues pointed to a 1977 incident in which he helped county police trap an agent for entertainers who was attempting to bribe him.
Woods, they said, was hearing a gambling case when he was telephoned at home by a friend of the defendant offering money if he would rule in the defendant's favor.
Woods, describing the events later in court, said he immediately contacted the State's Attorney's office and county detectives. Several days later, watched by a plainclothes detective, the entertainment agent handed Woods $2,500.
The agent pleaded guilty to bribery and State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. later praised the judge for his help in the case, saying Woods had "placed himself in personal jeopardy."
Several lawyers and judges said this week that while many judges become irritated with defendants who appear without lawyers, Woods has a reputation for treating them equally. "He's very fair and compassionate," said Eugene Zoglio, a Bowie attorney who was questioned by State Police. Said Upper Marlboro attorney William Parker: "He's even-tempered in court . . . he's one of the real gentlemen in our profession."
Several lawyers reported that the judge collected campaign funds for his son last fall and the matter was reported to the state's Commission on Judicial Disabilities. Last month judges and lawyers were questioned by state police about the judge's conduct.
Lawyers interviewed this week said they had given checks to the judge for his son's reelection campaign or said the judge had asked them about contributing. On Wednesday Judge Woods said "I certainly haven't committed any wrongdoing," but refused further comment.
Under Maryland law, a judge cannot "directly or indirectly lend the influence of his name or the prestige of his office to aid or advance the welfare of any private business or permit others to do so. He shall not personally solicit funds for any purpose, charitable or otherwise."
Some of those interviewed by state police said they were asked if the judge had been taking bribes, but all agreed it was impossible. Even those who gave the judge contributions for his son said no pressure had been put on them and said they expected no favors from the judge in return.
Del. Woods represents the same Glenarden district as State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, who was charged earlier this week with food stamp fraud. Del. Woods said that, with the investigation into his father coming to light soon after Broadwater's arrest, it almost looks like "a campaign" against the district's representatives.