In an unprecedented action, the Prince George's County Bar Association yesterday voted against the reappointment of District Court judge Richard V. Waldron, a tough-talking, conservative jurist who has been criticized for allegedly abusive courtroom conduct toward prosecutors, defense lawyers and defendants alike.
The "disapproval" will be forwarded to the Maryland Senate, which must confirm gubernatorial reappointment of sitting judges. The bar association recommendation is considered crucial in this process.
The bar association vote was 326 against Waldron and 109 for him, with 13 abstentions. Thus, 72.6 per cent of those voting flatly opposed Waldron retention in the first such vote taken among the county's 600 lawyers on the qualifications of a sitting judge.
Reappointment of incubent judges in Prince George's County and throughout Maryland has generally been a mater of routine.
Waldron, a 60-year-old former FBI agent appointed in 1967 by then Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, was vacationing in Florida yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Waldron was first appointed to the old Peoples Court. He automatically became a District Court judge when the old tribunal was abolished in 1970. District judges mainly hear misdemeanor and traffic cases in Hyattsville, oxon Hill and Upper Marlboro.
Few lawyers interviewed by The Post were willing to be quoted about their objections to Waldron. Generally, they said his conduct on the bench often reflected apparent personal bias toward individuals and groups, and that he seems personally affronted when lawyers take certain actions on behalf of clients.
In one instance, he reportedly lashed out as State Sen. Edward T. Conroy (D-Prince George's) in the courtroom for Conroy's 1972 congressional campaign against then Rep. Lawrence Hogan (R-Md.). Waldron is a Republican.
State's Attorney Arthur Marshall Jr. said that he refused to send his prosecutors to Waldron's courtroom for a period of about three weeks a few years ago, and complained to the chief judge of the state's District court system about Waldron.
"We had some difficulty with, in our opinion, inappropriate demeanor by a member of the bench," Marshall said. "We don't think the prosecutors are there to take abuse."
"He's very abrasive in the courtroom," said State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., (D-Prince George's), one of a half-dozen lawyers whose cases Waldron has reportedly refused to hear or who have asked the judge to remove himself from their cases.
"He's had continuing difficulties with a number of attorneys. I beleive he means well but I don't beleive he puts forth the impression of the judiciary I believe the people of Prince George's County want on the bench."
One lawyer complained of an instance in which Waldron reportedly told a defendant acquitted of a minor crime that he would still have to answer to "a higher judge." Waldron "sits as a moralist instead of a judicial trier of facts," said the lawyer, who asked not to be named.
The fact that Waldron has apparently offended two state senators is expected to be an additional obstacle to state Senate approval of his reappointment by Gov. Marvin Mandel. The Senate as a whole normally accedes to the wishes of the senators representing the county concerned in such matters.
"If he can't get a majority (of the bar) for him," said Miller, 'then he's got no business being on the bench . . . He shouldn't be reappointed."
County legal sources said that the Prince George's senators had been reluctant to ask colleagues from around the state to take the precedent-setting step of blocking a reappointment without local bar backing.
The bar did vote 428 to 19 in favor of a reappointment for District Court Administrative Judge James Magruder Ray, who was also originally appointed under the old system.
Sam Ianni, chairman of the county bar's judicial selection committee, said there was 'no vendetta or anything like that" against Waldron. "I think Waldron might think there is," Ianni said. 'He's at a disadvantage because he's Republican and we don't have many in our county."
But Ianni, a Republican, said he did not believe in the bar vote was partisan.
"We're all Democrats out here," said one lawyer who asked to remain anonymous, "but when a guy gets to be a judge, all of that is put aside. But Waldron was still looking at it as Democrat (lawyer) as opposed to Republican (judge). I wondered if my client was getting a fair shake."
Waldron, in a letter Feb. 21 to Jack Fossett, president of the Prince George's Bar Association, objected to the bar vote being held before the actual expiration of his terms on June 30. A vote at that later date, after the legislature adjourns, would have effectively extended his tenure in the $33,000-a-year judgeship until the Senate reconvenes in January, 1978.
Waldron was city attorney for Cheverly and ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in the early 1960s. A Marine Corps veteran who now lives in University Park, he has a reputation as a loner who does not mingle easily with other judges in the county's court system.