JUDGES MUST be held to the highest standards of judicial conduct and demeanor, so the questions that arose last year over the behavior of Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Creighton were troubling. Equally troubling was how the county’s legal community closed ranks around her to help her win election to a 15-year term. It’s a relief that she has now decided to step down from the bench. But the public is still largely being kept in the dark.
The announcement that Judge Creighton will retire from the bench effective July 3 follows a prolonged controversy that centered on her personal relationship with a felon whom she had once represented as a defense attorney. The relationship became public after he attacked and kidnapped her. Allegations that Judge Creighton initially misled police about her relationship with the man and that she improperly gave him legal advice prompted investigation by the state’s Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
According to sources, the commission about a month ago served her with disciplinary charges. She had, under the state’s rules, 30 days before the charges would become public. By stepping down, she can ensure that the charges will not be disclosed. An attorney for Judge Creighton did not return a phone call for comment. Her salary as judge was $149,600, and she will be eligible for a portion of her pension when she reaches 60.
No doubt the outcome spares the Montgomery courthouse uncomfortable gossip, but isn’t the public — including people who appeared before her in court — owed an answer as to whether she violated the public trust? That no information will be forthcoming — officials even declined to provide us with copy of her letter of resignation to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — is in keeping with the insular behavior of Montgomery County’s clubby legal community in last year’s election. Despite considerable concern about her candidacy, she remained on the endorsed slate of sitting judges because, so the argument went, she had been carefully vetted, unlike one opponent.
Clearly, that vetting process had problems. That she was so easily elected speaks volumes about how much attention voters pay to elections for judges. We hope this case prompts lawmakers to take a hard look at how judges are selected as well as recognize the need for more transparency in the system.