A Maryland judge under scrutiny from the state’s judicial disciplinary body over sexual harassment claims is set to retire before the group concludes its investigation. As a result, the group’s investigation will cease, and there will be no official findings, which would have been made public if he had been penalized.
Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Hassan El-Amin announced plans to retire weeks after investigators filed charges against him with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
He plans to resign effective June 1 from a term that was set to extend until 2027.
The judge already had been reprimanded by the county circuit court in a 2016 case over sexual harassment claims filed by his former administrative aide, Denise Lowe-Williams, who also brought the state case.
In the county case, Williams alleged the judge created a sexually charged work environment. El-Amin showed her graphic photos, called her while he was on vacation to tell her he missed her and remarked on how she looked in certain clothes, according to the complaint she sent to an administrative judge.
Williams says she sought a state inquiry after officials at the county court level who reprimanded El-Amin declined to tell her what specific punishment he had been handed.
In a Jan. 22 letter to Williams after she requested the state review, the state judicial investigators said they had filed charges finding that the judge committed “sanctionable conduct,” according to a copy of the letter shared by Williams.
Last week, the commission told her that her case was being “held in abeyance” in light of El-Amin’s retirement, Williams said. El-Amin and his attorney William C. Brennan declined to comment on the case.
El-Amin has served on the Prince George’s Circuit Court since 2011 and started as a district court judge in 2000.
He announced his intention to retire in a March 12 letter to Gov. Larry R. Hogan (R) in which he said “these almost 18 years of judicial service have been among the most fulfilling of my life.”
His letter said “I will miss the Bench and the unique opportunity it provides to render valuable service to the citizens of Maryland and elsewhere but I look forward to new opportunities to be of service in other ways.”
The letter did not address the charges filed with the commission.
That the judge’s retirement forestalls a resolution in her state case, Williams said, diminishes the personal and professional risk she took to stand up to someone in power and highlights the frustrations of the #MeToo movement.
“If he just goes quietly and the Judicial Disabilities Commission doesn’t say anything then I feel as though it was for nothing,” Williams said.
The judge likely will leave with his full retirement benefits and pension, as the Maryland Constitution states benefits can be stripped only if the state’s highest court orders the judge’s removal from office, according to a spokesman for the state retirement agency.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, confirmed the office received El-Amin’s retirement letter.
“The governor does not need to accept or approve the retirement, it simply becomes effective on the designated date,” Chasse said. “Our office was not aware at the time of any investigation or scrutiny by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.”
Williams said she had endured harassment — despite entreaties to stop — for at least four years because she feared losing her job. In 2016, Williams said, she finally decided to take a stand.
Williams said she turned to the state out of her disappointment in not getting more details from local administrative officials with the Prince George’s County Circuit Court about sanctions they had imposed.
“Please be advised that, based on its investigation, the Court has taken prompt remedial action to redress and prevent any harassing or discriminatory behavior,” county Administrative Judge Sheila Tillerson Adams wrote in a letter to Williams after authorities investigated her claims.
Williams was transferred to another administrative position in the court and was told that after the county investigation, circuit court judges in Prince George’s County and neighboring Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties received “additional training on harassment and discrimination.”
When she pressed for more details about what penalty El-Amin specifically received, she was told by court officials the information was a non-disclosable personnel matter.
Worried about a lack of transparency in the process, Williams filed a separate complaint with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities and was interviewed by state investigators, she said.
In its January letter, the state commission told her investigators had charged El-Amin with committing “sanctionable conduct.”
The letter went on to say the commission was awaiting a response from El-Amin or expiration “of the time for filing a response” before the charges would be posted on the Commission’s website.
About a month later, El-Amin announced his retirement.
“The Commission on Judicial Disabilities advises any proceedings against a judge would continue unless the judge has chosen to remove him or herself from the jurisdiction of the Commission and Court of Appeals by retiring or resigning,” said Jason Lucas, a spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary. “The Commission has jurisdiction over judges who are currently on the bench.”
Lucas would not answer questions specific to El-Amin’s case, stating “all proceedings as to complaints and investigations” by state law are “confidential and not available to the public.”
When she first considered filing her complaint, Williams said, people discouraged her and told her nothing consequential would come from her stepping forward.
Williams, who has since resigned from her position at the court, said she decided to speak out, determined to prove standing up would yield results and embolden others. Now, she said, she struggles with whether the risk was worth taking.
“I was hoping I was making a difference for other people but I don’t think I did because of the outcome and that really hurts,” Williams said. “Who would be inspired to go forth if they unfortunately experience the same thing?”