Maryland judges may no longer decide on their own on whether to drop out of a case when accused of sexual harassment or other personal misconduct, the state's highest court ruled today.

Judges will still be able to decide for themselves whether to withdraw when accused of bias in a particular case because of their financial holdings or past legal practice. But in cases involving a judge's personal behavior, another judge will have to be brought in to settle the matter, the court said.

Ruling in a precedent-setting case involving Washington lawyer Elizabeth Hamlin's allegation that Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Jacob S. Levin was biased against her because she had rebuffed Levin's sexual advances, the Court of Appeals held that a trial judge "must permit another judge to decide {a} motion for recusal" when the motion "generates serious issues about his or her personal misconduct."

Levin was presiding at a murder trial today and could not be reached for comment. According to the court's opinion, he told Hamlin when she raised her concerns, "I don't have any recollection of what you are talking about."

Until today, judges who were asked to step aside by lawyers raising questions about possible judicial prejudice were allowed to rule -- regardless of the nature of the allegations -- on whether they thought they could hear those cases fairly.

The case at issue revolved around allegations made in October 1988 by Hamlin, a partner in the firm of Christmas, Hamlin & Blaszkow, who was then trying a medical malpractice case before Levin. After Levin decided to halve the $534,000 in damages a jury had awarded to Hamlin's clients, Hamlin asked Levin to remove himself from the case, citing what she said was the judge's 10-year history of making unrequited romantic overtures to her. The judge refused.

According to the court's 40-page opinion, Hamlin became concerned about her relationship with the judge in the week before the malpractice case went to trial. At a meeting in Levin's chambers, Levin allegedly asked Hamlin whether she had a "steady" yet. And when Hamlin asked him if he had someone in mind, the judge responded, "Yes, me."

According to Hamlin, she told the judge, "Forget it."

When her case finally went to trial, Hamlin said, Levin treated her rudely in front of the jury and consistently ruled against her. About midway through the trial, she said she attended another meeting in the judge's chambers, at which Levin allegedly said, "Do you want to give me your phone number now?"

"At that point, you knew what he was trying to do," Hamlin said in an interview today. She said she did not ask Levin to stop the trial because she felt the jury was going to decide in her favor, and hoped to spare her clients the expense of a new trial.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals specifically stated that it was not ruling on the accuracy of Hamlin's allegations, although it said "there is nothing inherently incredible about the history" she presented.

Last year, a committee convened by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Robert C. Murphy, concluded that sex bias was a serious problem in Maryland's courts and since then, sensitivity seminars for judges have been instituted statewide.