The founder of an Anne Arundel County progressive group and the Caucus of African American Leaders have filed a formal complaint against Circuit Court Judge Mark W. Crooks after his name was appeared on a county council candidate’s fundraising flier.
Yasemin Jamison, who created Anne Arundel County Indivisible, submitted the complaint to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities last week. The seven-page document claims that Crooks violated a section of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct that bars judges from endorsing political candidates.
The commission, an independent body that investigates complaints against the state’s judges, does not confirm or share information about complaints until an investigation is complete. The complaint can be dismissed right away, or the panel could launch an investigation that could result in a warning, private reprimand, deferred discipline agreement or charges.
Jamison said she submitted the complaint because she wants the public and candidates to know “that we’re awake and watching.”
“I just feel like people needed to know, and that it’s not right,” she said.
The email flier advertised a fundraiser for Pasadena Republican Nathan Volke’s campaign, It indicated Crooks and Anne Arundel County Register of Wills Lauren M. Parker were hosts, saying they “cordially invite you to a happy hour reception supporting” Volke.
Crooks said at the time that he “didn’t mean to remotely or even tacitly suggest that I was endorsing (Volke) as a candidate.”
The judge said Monday he had not yet seen the complaint, but issued a statement applauding the watchfulness of those who filed it, saying they .
He wrote that he was “encouraged by the close watch of (Caucus of African American Leaders convener) Mr. (Carl) Snowden and others who obviously share my concerns regarding judicial candidates.”
“Like the complainants, I recognize that sitting judges must carefully follow a strict path,” he said.
Volke, an attorney and the former chair of the county’s Republican central committee, did not respond to a request for comment. He previously called the flier’s wording “inartful” and said he would make a new one clarifying that Crooks and Parker were “special guests,” not hosts, of the event.
Monday, Crooks said he no longer plans to attend the fundraiser. A website with information about the event had removed his name as one of the “special honored guests.”
Snowden, a guest columnist for The Capital, said he gives Crooks “the benefit of the doubt,” but said a judge has a special obligation to make sure there is no appearance of conflict.
Under Maryland law, newly appointed Circuit Court judges like Crooks, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Larry Hogan in November, must appear on the ballot in the following election year — in this case, 2018.
The ethics code allows judicial candidates to endorse or oppose candidates for the same judicial office and attend or purchase tickets for dinners and events sponsored by a political organization or candidate. They cannot, however, make a speech for a candidate or political organization or publicly endorse a candidate for non-judicial office.