A Montgomery County judge indicted Thursday for alleged misconduct in the dismissal of a traffic citation will continue to receive his $66,500 annual salary but will not be allowed to preside over cases while the charges are pending, Maryland's chief District Court judge said yesterday.
District Court Judge Jerry H. Hyatt, 47, a five-term state legislator who became a judge last year, will be assigned to "an administrative job doing paper work" and will not be allowed to return to the bench "for any purpose" while the charges are pending, Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney said.
Sweeney said that under no circumstances does Maryland's Constitution allow for the suspension of a judge. He said Hyatt would lose his salary only if the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, strips him of his judgeship.
The court could do so on the recommendation of the state's Judicial Disabilities Commission, according to the commission's chairman, Judge Richard P. Gilbert of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Gilbert would not say whether the panel intends to review the Hyatt matter.
Hyatt, who has been on medical leave since September, is accused of entering a not guilty verdict Sept. 8 in the case of court clerk Pamela Swan of Germantown, who was cited for driving in violation of the terms of her learner's permit after a July 22 traffic accident. Swan was a "personal and social acquaintance" of Hyatt's, and the judge entered the verdict without Swan appearing in court, according to the indictment, issued by a Montgomery County grand jury.
Hyatt's attorney, Barry Helfand, said his client is innocent.
Judge Sweeney, whose office is in Annapolis, said his "constitutional subordinates in Montgomery County" informed him of Hyatt's alleged misconduct, and he reported the allegations in an Oct. 2 letter to the Office of the State Prosecutor in Towson, which investigates accusations of misdeeds by public officials.
The chief prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, said yesterday that an investigation found no evidence that Hyatt's actions in the Swan case were part of any pattern of improprieties.
The indictment charged Hyatt with misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and conspiracy -- allegations that astounded many of his acquaintances.
"He was someone who took a common-sense approach to things, and was known by everyone -- whoever you talk to -- as a decent, compassionate human being," said Thomas Stone, the county's lobbyist in Annapolis. "In my mind, he was frankly the type of person who would make a superb judge."
Montanarelli said Hyatt should have steered clear of the matter because he knew Swan and was familiar with the details of her case. As evidence of that familiarity, the indictment alleged that Hyatt arranged for Swan to be represented by his former law firm, King & Hyatt of Damascus, if a lawsuit were to arise from the traffic accident.
The alleged arrangment with the law firm may have been unethical for Hyatt, Montanarelli said, but it was not a crime. He charged that the judge did act illegally, however, in conspiring with a second clerk to have Swan's traffic citation placed on his court schedule, then dismissing it without Swan's appearing before him.
The clerk, Evelyn Maslar, 39, who lives with Swan in Germantown, was indicted on charges of obstructing justice and conspiracy. She resigned Aug. 25, before the investigation began.
Swan was named as an unindicted coconspirator. She resigned Sept. 8, the same day the not guilty verdict was entered for her traffic citation, but it was unclear yesterday whether the two actions were related. She and Maslar have declined comment.