By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO
A retired federal judge has been named as leader of a seven-member panel to investigate the broader background of the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) corruption scandal.
Even with the summer sentencing of Detective Daniel Hersl to 18 years in federal prison, questions remain about how he and his fellow seven convicted GTTF officers could perpetrate robberies, home invasions, racketeering and massive overtime fraud without notice by fellow officers or the department at large.
Alexander Williams, Jr., a U.S. District Court judge appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994, with the full support of then Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, served almost 10 years before retiring in January 2014. Prior to this position, Williams served two terms as Prince George’s County State’s Attorney from 1987 to 1994.
Williams, a D.C. native, is a graduate of Howard University, and is now a Howard professor. The University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Behavioral & Social Sciences Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. Center for Education, Justice and Ethics, is named for him.
Gov. Larry Hogan co-appointed Williams to the position with the assent of leadership in the legislature. Williams was previously appointed by Hogan to University of Maryland Medical Systems Board of Directors and he is a supporter of Hogan’s 2018 campaign for reelection. The bill establishing the “Commission to Restore Trust in Policing” passed the general assembly unanimously earlier this year.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh opposed the establishment of the commission and expressed a preference that inquiries into BPD and GTTF corruption be made by her appointee, the interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle.
Questions about Williams’ fitness for nomination to the U.S District court in 1994 started with the American Bar Association (a professional group with no real power in these decisions). In anticipation of the ABA rating Williams as “unqualified” the NAACP’s Leroy W. Warren, chairman of NAACP national’s Crime and Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter to the The Baltimore Sun: “We have some serious concerns that Mr. Williams has become a victim of racial discrimination.”
“Mr. Williams’ career as a law clerk, a lawyer in private practice, an assistant public defender, a law professor, a community leader, author of numerous law journal articles and Prince George’s County State’s attorney from 1987 to present is probably more broad and varied than a majority of those appointed as federal judges since the mid 1980s,” Warren wrote.
The federal court system has long been criticized for institutional bias, essentially hiring from within by favoring one side of the bench (the judge) and one side of the courtroom (the prosecution). Defense attorneys, adversaries of the state by profession, are by necessity first and foremost concerned with their defendant’s rights.
As further example of this bias, Justice Thurgood Marshall, another Howard graduate, remains the last criminal defense attorney to have served on the bench of the Supreme Court.