A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge yesterday overruled another judge's order compelling the county's police department to provide the public defender's office with the names of several officers who were found to have lied.
Circuit Court Judge S. Michael Pincus ruled that the subpoena issued by Judge D. Warren Donohue on Thursday was irrelevant to the case at hand because none of the officers who lied was involved in the case against Anthony Hodge, a 35-year-old man on trial for burglary.
Yesterday's ruling came less than three months after Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, during a controversial speech to police academy graduates, expressed outrage that several officers against whom charges of untruthfulness were sustained "continue to carry a badge and a gun and drive about the county arresting people and going to court and testifying."
Top prosecutors immediately questioned whether any of the lies were significant enough to have jeopardized testimony in past cases. However, after reviewing the internal affairs files, Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said the police officers who were found to have lied did so in "fairly minor" work matters not affecting court cases.
Last week, the public defender's office filed motions in four randomly selected criminal cases seeking the officers' names. On Thursday, Donohue allowed the defense to file a motion in the first case to compel the department to release them.
In pretrial motions before Hodge's trial yesterday, Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Blumberg argued that the so-called list ought to be released to attorneys to determine whether any officers they might want to compel to testify in future cases were found to have lied.
Blumberg argued that such determinations should not be left with prosecutors or county attorneys and that the court ought to be the sole repository of the names.
"This issue is going to keep coming up, and we can't assume that every state's attorney has the list," Blumberg warned the court. "It's the court that should have the list. . . . As the trial progresses, we don't know which officers we'll have to call."
But Michael A. Fry, the assistant county attorney representing the department, filed for a protective order, arguing that the public defender's motions were irrelevant because none of the officers in Hodges's case was among those found to have lied.
Police officials declined to reveal the nature of the complaints filed against the six officers but said that one officer admitted to the offense and was punished, one was exonerated, two were found not guilty, and two others are awaiting administrative hearings.
"What the public defender is doing is trying to put the police on trial, to excuse the alleged criminal conduct of criminal defendants," said Walter E. Bader, head of the Montgomery County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Eugene Wolfe, the district public defender for Montgomery County, said that the notion of using the court as a repository of such internal affairs records is a valid means of assuring an officer's credibility but that "the best [solution] would be to disclose who they are. . . . They're going to show up on a case sooner or later."
Staff writer Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.