A longtime Charles County, Maryland, judge could face sanctions after being accused of offering legal advice to two acquaintances who were facing domestic violence charges.
The Commission on Judicial Disabilities — an independent body connected to the Maryland Courts system that looks into complaints made against judges in the state — began investigating one made against Judge W. Louis Hennessy.
According to charging documents from the commission’s investigative council, its investigation discovered that in addition to having inappropriate and improper discussions with two criminal defendants, the judge also allegedly demonstrated bias against women and domestic violence victims and misused judicial resources.
According to commission investigators, one case involved a man who was a friend of Hennessy who was arrested in St. Mary’s County in May 2020 and charged with second-degree assault and violating a protective order. In that case, Hennessy allegedly helped his friend secure a lawyer, offered legal advice on a plea deal and reached out to the victim in the case with the intent of using that information to help his friend build his defense.
Some of the evidence gathered came from 10 jailhouse calls that Hennessy made to his friend. In those calls he is also accused of making disparaging comments about the victim, including claiming the victim was misusing the police.
“She’s not the first woman to do this, and she won’t be the last,” Hennessy is accused of saying.
Commission investigators claim the judge made statements that indicated he knew what he was doing was wrong. In one discussion, the charging document claims, his friend asked him to reach out to the judge hearing the case.
“I can’t say anything to him,” Hennessy allegedly said. “Let me tell you something, he is very, very strict about that [expletive], you know, and he would fire me up. I would get in big trouble if I said anything to him.”
The second case also involved someone Hennessy knew, and had employed in the past, who was arrested on domestic violence charges in St. Mary’s County.
In that case, the judge is accused of offering legal advice, including during the man’s arrest, which was captured on a police officer’s body camera. The judge is also accused of traveling to the mobile home community where the alleged assault took place with a family member who was a notary, and collecting written affidavits from witnesses.
“Two (2) of the affidavits were written in the same handwriting and the Affiant associated with one of those affidavits stated that his affidavit was handwritten by Judge Hennessy,” according to the charging document.
The commission laid out more than a dozen rules the judge is accused of violating.
“Judge Hennessy’s behavior provides evidence that Judge Hennessy engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice in Maryland Courts,” the charging document stated.
Hennessy, who has served on the bench in Charles County since 2005, responded in a filing to the charges against him, denying he’d committed sanctionable conduct or violated judicial conduct rules.
Hennessy said that neither case was a Charles County case, that he did not preside over the cases and that he did not “provide any substantive legal advice” to anyone he talked to who were involved in the two separate cases.
“Judge Hennessy admits that he commiserated with certain parties in this matter but he did so as a private citizen and not as an attorney or a member of the judiciary,” the response stated.
In the response, the judge was also characterized as someone “empathetic of those less fortunate” and “an excellent jurist with a heart of gold.”
Hennessy did say in his response that speaking with the two men on their cases “may not have been the most appropriate course of conduct for a sitting judge.”
The case against Hennessy is expected to next be the subject of a public hearing. The outcome of the process could result in anything from the charges being dismissed to the judge being removed from the bench according to the commission’s website.
Before becoming a judge in Charles County, Hennessy served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and as commander of the homicide investigations branch for D.C. police.