A Prince George's County court commissioner resigned yesterday as court officials were investigating whether he abused his position by signing up two criminal defendants as clients of a legal services company that pays him commissions.
Kevin R. Owens submitted a written resignation, effective immediately, according to Martha Rasin, chief judge of the District Court system statewide.
"I'm satisfied with the way it was resolved," Rasin said.
The judge declined to disclose the contents of Owens's resignation letter or the findings of the investigation into the former commissioner's activities. Rasin said she saw no reason for the investigation to continue.
In a brief interview yesterday, Owens said: "I'm very happy. Thank you. I'm at peace with myself."
He declined to comment further.
Court commissioners are not judges and do not have to be lawyers, but they are judicial officers appointed by District Court officials. Many people charged with crimes appear first before a court commissioner, who determines probable cause and determines the conditions of release.
Commissioners are bound by virtually the same ethical rules as judges, court officials said. They are forbidden to engage in activity that would give even the appearance of a conflict of interest and from using their judicial positions for profit.
A county police officer had charged Sheri Lynn Papa, 22, and her boyfriend, Devon Zuchelli, 21, with assault after a May 20 incident at a Lanham restaurant. After spending a night in jail, Papa appeared before Owens and was released on personal recognizance.
She said that Owens then called her and set up a meeting with her and Zuchelli on May 26. At the meeting, Owens sold each of them a membership in Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., the two said. They said Owens told them he earned a $100 commission for each person he signed up.
Officials at Oklahoma-based Pre-Paid Legal Services, who confirmed that Owens is an independent contractor who sells memberships, said they were not aware that Owens was a judicial officer when he became a sales associate in March.
A company official said yesterday that the company is investigating whether Owens acted unethically in selling memberships.
After an attorney provided by Pre-Paid Legal Services asked Zuchelli for a $750 retainer in a July 15 letter, Zuchelli and Papa retained an attorney, Terrell N. Roberts III of Riverdale. They told Roberts about Owens and the legal plan, and Roberts told District Court officials, prompting their investigation.
Papa and Zuchelli, who each paid $85 to Pre-Paid Legal Services, have canceled their memberships. The charges against them were dropped this week after the officer did not appear in court for trial.