An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge who allowed a 25-year-old woman to remove her blouse in his courtroom so he could see her scars said yesterday that the procedure was "fairly unusual" but not improper.
"There was no problem. Nobody saw anything except the attorneys involved in the case," said Judge James C. Cawood Jr. "We're just like doctors. Sometimes you see things that other people don't see."
Celestine Williams, a prisoner at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women at Jessup, removed her blouse and showed Cawood scars on her shoulder and breast during a proceeding Thursday. The judge asked several men to leave the courtroom, lawyers said, but some remained. Cawood was hearing the case without a jury.
Williams, who is within months of completing a sentence for manslaughter, stood about a foot away from the judge when she took off her blouse, then turned to show him her back, holding her blouse in front of her to shield herself from courtroom spectators, attorneys said. She was not wearing a bra.
Linda Ringo, 24, Williams' fellow inmate, had been charged with pouring hot water on Williams in February while the two women fought over cookies. Ringo maintained that the scalding had been an accident.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson suggested that Cawood view the scars, and Williams agreed. Ringo's public defender, Pamela North, objected, arguing the display "was highly inflammatory and irrelevant" because both sides agreed Williams had been injured.
Cawood, who overruled North, said he did not move the proceeding into his chambers because of potential security problems and because no one objected to remaining in the courtroom. "We could do it quickly and easily at the bench . . . . It was rather crucial to the case," he said.
Bergeson said the scars had not shown up clearly in photographs of the injuries taken by his office.
Cawood found Ringo, who is serving a sentence for armed robbery, guilty of assault and battery. He scheduled sentencing for November.
Around the courthouse, the incident raised a few eyebrows but no complaints.
"It's not something I would normally expect to have happen," said County Administrative Judge Bruce C. Williams. "I think it probably could have happened in chambers."