The chief judge of the Maryland District Court system said yesterday that he has asked the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities to decide if a Montgomery County district judge acquitted of misdemeanor charges on a medical defense is competent to return to his full judicial duties. Meanwhile, he added, Judge Henry J. Monahan will remain on administrative assignment.
Monahan was acquitted Wednesday of charges of breaking into a Hagerstown, Md. home in the early morning hours of May 3 and assaulting two police officers. Hospital records introduced during the trial showed that his blood alcohol content was 0.228 percent; a level of 0.13 percent is grounds for a charge of intoxication in Maryland. A judge ruled, however, that Monahan was not responsible for his actions because he was suffering at the time from a mental disorder caused by a small stroke.
Judge Robert F. Sweeney, the District Court's chief judge, said, "In view of the medical testimony that was evidently submitted at the trial, I think that the public interest requires that this constitutional body [the judicial disabilities commission] make a determination.
"It is the function of the commission to decide whether a judge, by reason of physical or mental incapacity, is competent to perform his duties," Sweeney said.
Monahan has declined to comment on the outcome of his trial or on his plans for the future, but his attorneys, James J. Cromwell and William J. Rowan III, said he wants to resume his full duties as a judge.
Monahan's case has raised controversy within the legal and medical fields.
The Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest group, has requested that Monahan be removed from the bench, arguing that his judgments on defenses centering on mental impairment could be tainted.
Two neurologists yesterday questioned the diagnosis of a stroke and whether it would have caused Monahan's actions.
The judicial commission's reviews are secret, Sweeney said, and will take four to six weeks. "They are free to do as they wish -- review the medical aspects . . . look at every aspect of the case that is in the public interest," he said.
Commission members, who are appointed by the governor, include four judges, two members of the bar and one lay person, officials said. Once the review is complete, the commission can take one of several actions: It can choose to do nothing, it can issue a private reprimand in some limited situations, or it can recommend to the Court of Appeals that a judge be retired, removed, censured or publicly reprimanded, officials said. The Court of Appeals then decides if it wants to act on the recommendation.
The Monahan case, according to Sweeney, is highly unusual. Only two other Maryland judges have faced criminal charges, Sweeney said. Baltimore County District Court Judge David N. Bates resigned last year after he was found not guilty of making false declarations to a federal grand jury. In 1981, Baltimore District Court Judge Allen B. Spector resigned after he was convicted of accepting bribes as a Baltimore councilman.
The Washington Legal Foundation said yesterday that it would send the wrong signals to the public to allow Monahan to return to the bench and begin presiding again over charges -- breaking and entering and assault and battery -- such as the ones he faced in his own trial.
"How can he mete out justice as he should when confronted with a defendant who says he wasn't responsible for breaking into a house or assaulting someone because he was on drugs, or drunk or had some mental disorder at the time of the incident?" said Paul Kamenar, executive legal director of the foundation.
Kamenar said that the Monahan defense reminded him of the so-called "Twinkie" defense in the San Francisco murder case in which the defendant argued that he was not responsible for his actions because he had eaten so much junk food that it had reduced his mental capability.
Kamenar's organization filed a nine-page complaint with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities against Monahan on May 25 alleging improper behavior. The foundation urges that the judge be removed from the bench.
More medical questions emerged yesterday about the transient global amnesia that doctors said was responsible for Monahan's "bizarre" behavior on the night of the break-in.
According to testimony at the trial, Monahan suffered a small stroke shortly before the May 2 dinner at a state judicial conference in Hagerstown. Monahan said he does not remember being at the dinner, partying with other judges after the dinner, breaking into a private home near the hotel where the conference was being held or assaulting the two police officers who arrested him. Participants at the conference said he kissed the hands of another judge, wandered around speaking Latin and took sips from other persons' drinks.
Dr. Stanley Cohan, a neurologist with Georgetown University School of Medicine, testified that he examined Monahan on May 7 -- five days after the episode -- and found physical evidence including abnormalities in eye movement and leg reflexes showing that Monahan had recently suffered a stroke. He fixed the time of the stroke at about 9 p.m. May 2, he said, because that is when Monahan lost his memory. The memory loss, Cohan said, was caused by the transient global amnesia that sometimes accompanies small brain stem strokes.
But a Washington area neurologist said yesterday that in his opinion Monahan's medical defense represented "very creative thinking." The neurologist, who would not speak for attribution, said that transient global amnesia is a well-recognized medical entity but that there is no test that confirms transient global amnesia.
"You can't do a biopsy or a CAT-scan to prove it," the neurologist said. Instead, he said, "it is a diagnosis of exclusion as the best explanation for what happened to an individual."
Dr. Alan Rubens, a Minnesota neurologist specializing in behavioral neurology, agreed with the Washington neurologist.
"Certainly, transient global amnesia is an after-the-fact diagnosis, after you've ruled out everything else," said Rubens, who practices at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Rubens said a person suffering from transient global amnesia, rather than behaving in a bizarre, aggressive fashion, more typically is "usually helpless . . . confused, scared, uncertain of the identity of the other people around them."
Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long, who prosecuted the case against Monahan, said yesterday that he did not offer any medical testimony rebutting the two doctors testifying for the defense because "we had none to offer."
Long said that his staff talked to some doctors informally and concluded that transient global amnesia is a medical condition that can occur. That combined with Cohan's finding of physical evidence that Monahan had suffered a stroke was sufficient for Long to decide against bringing in any more medical experts.
The prosecutor said that he felt it was important "to get to the truth, whether the state wins or loses . . . important for the public to know happened to Judge Monahan on May 2-3 . . . and now they do."