On Thursday, October 5, 2023, The Daily Record reported a serious ethical lapse that had taken place in Montgomery County, Maryland. Circuit Court Judge David Boynton retired in February to take a high-ranking job in the office of Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. While there is no problem with the said transfer, the report states that the matter was handled unethically.
In November 2022, Boynton began discussing a job with county State’s Attorney John McCarthy. By December 7, McCarthy had introduced Boynton to his staff as the new head of the felony trial division, yet neither the public defender’s office nor the county bar knew. However, Boynton kept overseeing criminal cases until mid-January 2023, including the attempted murder case of 18-year-old Steven Alston Jr. On December 22, Boynton sentenced Alston to 18 years. After the said event, in February, Boynton retired from the bench to take the job with McCarthy.
Since then, new sentencings have been ordered for some of Boynton’s cases. Judge Leo Green Jr., brought in to review the aftermath, recently reduced Alston’s sentence by three years.
Experts say that Boynton violated judicial ethics by hearing cases involving a prospective employer. Based on the report, the state Judicial Disabilities Commission should investigate whether Boynton’s actions as judge improperly created a perception of bias. The Commission’s jurisdiction is over judicial conduct. But the matter remains relevant – Boynton could someday seek recall as a senior judge. If the Commission won’t pursue this, its jurisdiction should expand to cover such lapses even after a judge’s resignation.
The report added that Boynton appears to have violated Maryland Rule 18-101.2 on promoting confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and avoiding any reasonable perception of impropriety. Hearing criminal cases while negotiating with the prosecution fails this standard. The recusal was ethically required once job talks began.
President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer agreed: “(Boynton) should have recused himself just as soon as he started discussing the job with prosecutors. It’s the only ethically responsible thing to do.” Other courts confirm judges may not adjudicate cases involving prospective employers.
The rules protect defendants’ and the public’s trust in justice, avoiding even unconscious favoritism toward a future boss. Boynton’s actions while a judge merit investigation and potential sanctions, even if he never returns to the bench. Judicial ethics violations shouldn’t escape review just because a judge resigns.
Source: The Daily Record