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Dylan Segelbaum

The Baltimore Banner

April 10, 2024

A Baltimore judge criticized the office of U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume in open court for trying to get one of his staffers excused from jury duty, calling the move “totally inappropriate” and “outside the bounds of respect from one branch of government to the other.”

Circuit Judge Videtta A. Brown made the remarks on Tuesday after a jury had been selected in a kidnapping and armed robbery case. While the panel was not yet in the courtroom, the judge said she received the following note from a juror:

“I work for an elected official in Congress who is writing the legislation to rebuild FSK [Francis Scott Key] Bridge. It is time sensitive, and I handle his press communications work. Would this be compelling enough to be kindly excused from this case in particular?”

Brown denied the request because she did not find that was a compelling reason that would make it impossible for the juror to serve. She then criticized Mfume’s office for calling her chambers about sending a letter in support of the request.

“I will tell you this: you saw my secretary come out and whisper to me,” Brown told the assistant state’s attorney and defense attorney. “And that was because someone from Congressman Mfume’s office called my office to want to send a letter in support of this person not serving on my jury.”

“Which is totally inappropriate,” she added, “totally outside the bounds of respect from one branch of government to the other.”

She said she did not want to see a letter “because it’s not going to be used to persuade me at all.”

Mfume’s chief of staff, Eric Bryant, said he was the one who called and apologized if his actions came off in a negative way.

“I offer my apologies to the court if the outreach was interpreted as anything other than an effort to be corroborative of the staffer’s request,” Bryant said. “There was nothing nefarious intended, no disrespect intended or any effort to infringe upon the awesome powers of the court.”

The situation with the congressional staffer came after an earlier incident in the morning during which a prospective juror shouted at the judge.

Brown told the prospective juror to sit down after he would not specifically answer her questions at the bench, remarking “what I’m not going to do is lose my retirement funds doing this.”

“Now, sir, hey, let me say this: What’s going to happen is you gonna sit down and be quiet, because if not, he’s going to take you in custody,” Brown said. “It’s your choice.”

When the man refused to stop talking back, Brown told sheriff’s deputies, “Take him. I’m done.”

In an email, Bradley Tanner, a spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary, said the man was not held in contempt of court.

Baltimore Sheriff Sam Cogen said the incident report indicates that the man was taken to lockup for “disobedience to the court” and released after one hour and 15 minutes. He could not be reached for comment.

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