Last Friday, May 12, Councilman Mel Franklin faced Judge Vincent Femia (ret.) to plead guilty to Driving Under the Influence. Last November the councilman not only drove drunk in a county car, he also hit & totaled another car, sent two people to the hospital, and fled the scene on foot. Today, Judge Femia gave him a Probation Before Judgement which required him to pay a $645 fine, and go for a year with no violations. Being a PBJ, it means that the councilman can honestly say he has not been convicted of a crime. According to ENLawyers.com:
In Maryland criminal law circles, PBJ is a shorthand for Probation Before Judgment. Probation before Judgment is essentially being placed on probation BEFORE THE JUDGMENT IS ENTERED. That means you have not been found guilty of the crime. This may not seem like a big benefit, but it is. You can truthfully answer you have not been convicted of a crime on job applications, your car insurance does not go through the roof (if it’s a DUI) …
The prosecutor tried to ask for a harsher punishment, and the family involved do not feel that the councilman got an adequate punishment. Now before you jump to conclusions, Mr. Franklin did NOT receive special treatment from the judge. Quite the contrary, Judge Femia treated him the same way he treats every case.
According to the Washington Post story, Judge Femia gave virtually the same sentence to everyone brought before him, regardless of their BAC or the situation they were involved in. Oddly, the judge says he’d long given up on understanding the different circumstances, and just hands out the maximum sentence every time, except this wasn’t the maximum sentence for Mr. Franklin, not even close. In fact, as we’ve already seen, it is fairly rare to be given a PBJ for a DUI with an accident, esp when the other car was totaled, and people sent to the hospital. But hey, why should this judge bother with any of the details in the cases brought before him? Just hand out the same PBJ offer to everyone and call it a day.
It appears that this particular judge, who has been “retired” since 1997, has a history of not reading the case files in front of him. Back in 2005 he let a murderer out on bond because he didn’t read the case, and just handed out a similar sentence to everything else he did that day.
Femia said he was unaware that he was ordering the release of a man accused of first-degree murder. With rare exceptions, such defendants are held without bond.
“Like a damn dummy, I didn’t even look at the file,” Femia said. “I screwed up.
He does this so often, and is so consistent, there is a widely-known “Femia Menu,” outlined in a letter to the bar association, in which he says that he’s been using this menu for over 30 years, and sees no reason to change now, other than to update the language and make a few tweaks due to changes in the law. His menu allowed him to hand out judgments quickly, and clear his docket in record speed. Lawyers use this to their advantage when counseling their clients.
In 2006, retired Judge Femia had a man who did not speak English plead guilty to a drug crime he did not commit, just so he could release the man from jail, where he’d been held without charges overly long because of the language barrier. When asked why he made the man plead guilty, he responded:
“He didn’t have any idea what he was doing, and I didn’t give a damn,” Femia said in an interview. “Our system is a Gordian knot, and I cut it. My object in this case was not criminal justice. My object was to get him the hell out of jail.”
Apparently he came under fire at some point for having the people brought before him nod heads when he handed down pleas & judgments for them with no attorneys from either side present. It was a practice found to be unconstitutional, because most of the people had not waived their right to an attorney before he pushed them to enter their pleas.
None of this seems right. Why is this judge, who retired in 1997, still allowed to sit as a judge? Why has no one with the power to do done anything to challenge him?
This judge is ridiculous.