Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chasanow, who was accused by the Prince George's prosecutor of being unable to conduct a fair trial in an upcoming death penalty case, said yesterday he has taken himself off the case.
Chasanow said he was "incredulous" at the allegations leveled at him by Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., but nevertheless felt compelled to remove himself from the case of Donald T. Maziarz. Maziarz, 19, is charged with murder, rape and arson in the death of 30-year-old Peggy Naomi Green of Oxon Hill.
"I've never been put in such a difficult position," Chasanow said in court yesterday. "I still feel that I could be fair and impartial." The case has been reassigned to Judge James M. Rea.
Defense attorney Tom Saunders strongly objected to Chasanow stepping aside, accusing Marshall of "bullying the bench." Another lawyer for Maziarz, George Lipman, said Marshall was using "McCarthy-like tactics . . . . Mr. Marshall came in here and put a gun to the court's head, attempted to blackmail the court."
The defense attorneys also asked the judge to approve a motion that the state withdraw its notice to seek the death penalty because of the controversy, a motion that Chasanow turned down.
In court on Monday, Marshall accused Chasanow, one of the prosecutor's former assistants, of abandoning judicial impartiality in the case by telling assistant state's attorney David Simpson, in a private conversation, that this was not a death penalty case.
Simpson then took the witness stand and in a tense exchange, denied that Chasanow had never made such a statement to him. Simpson insisted that he believed Chasanow would be fair. Chasanow denied he made the statement.
Marshall also said on Monday that he heard that Chasanow had said he "is looking forward to seeing Mr. Simpson get his head kicked by the defense team sent down from Baltimore."
Chasanow admitted to making such a remark, but he inisted that in was only in jest because he had heard that the defense attorneys were very good.
Yesterday Chasanow said, "I feel that I have been put in a position where I must excuse myself." He said that Marshall's charges "can't help but to have an effect on the defendant."
Chasanow also said that he felt that he could not remain on the case because Marshall's allegations would "affect the public perception" of Chasanow's impartiality.
Yesterday Marshall said he was satisfied that Chasanow had stepped aside. "I think he should have excused himself as soon as he gave an opinion," Marshall said.
The prosecutor said he was not trying to "bully the court," but was concerned about Chasanow's statements in this particular case. Marshall described Chasanow as a "very fair" judge and said he was very satisfied with Chasanow's handling of another death penalty case involving Harlow Brian Sails, who was tried for the murder of an off-duty policeman. Sails was not sentenced to the death penalty but got life in prison plus 70 years.