Five Prince George's County Circuit Court judges have promised school Superintendent John A. Murphy that they will support the discipline policies he implements by dealing firmly and quickly with student violators brought to court.
"Since he's new, we wanted him to know we were responsive," said Judge Robert J. Woods, who organized the meeting earlier this week. "We are strong on discipline. We've always taken a tough stand."
Murphy said the judges expressed support "of the kind of school discipline that's been established in the county." The Prince George's expulsion policy for students caught with weapons or distributing drugs is the strictest in the Washington area.
While some expulsions are appealed to Circuit Court, Woods said the meeting involved judges assigned to juvenile cases, mostly involving assaults, robberies and trespassing by students.
The gathering, held at a Greenbelt restaurant, was primarily a get-acquainted session, according to Woods. Murphy has held a number of similar meetings with community leaders, parents and teachers since assuming his position this summer.
Both Murphy and Judge Vincent J. Femia, who also attended the meeting, said the judges' vow of support should not be interpreted as a prejudgement of cases before they reach the courtroom.
"They were simply saying, 'We're supportive of a good, orderly society,' " Murphy said.
Femia also said the judges were not telling Murphy how to deal with discipline problems.
"It's not our business to do that," he said. "We're not in the business of school discipline. We're in the business of deciding whether somebody has violated the law.
"So often we hear the complaint that you can't get backing from the court. We will not ignore cases, using as an excuse that it's a school problem," Femia said.
"The trick to dealing with children is speed," he said. "We will respond as quickly as humanly possible in maintaining order and discipline."
In addition to Femia, Woods said other judges at the meeting included David G. Ross, James H. Taylor and Robert H. Mason.