In a bail hearing held on January 18, Judge Christopher Panos called the decision to hold a defendant without providing medical care “cruel and unusual pretrial punishment.”  

This story also appeared in Baltimore Courtwatch

Despite this, he postponed the matter. His decision to postpone meant the person remained in jail without their needed medication or ileostomy bags, which had to be cleaned eight times a day due to the unsanitary conditions in the jail. At a second hearing just a few days later, Panos continued to hold this person without bond. 

“I’m scared I’m going to die in here, and nobody cares,” the defendant told Panos. The judge cut him off. “You’re wrong. I need to correct you,” he said. “Your lawyer cares, and I care.” 

Baltimore City Circuit Court judges have the full power of the state behind them. During bail review hearings, they have two choices. A judge can allow limited degrees of release outside of jail through electronic monitoring or pretrial supervision. Or they can choose to incarcerate someone before that person stands trial. In Baltimore City jails, many people are looking at months — or, in some cases, years — of incarceration before trial. 

Panos was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in 2013 and will serve until 2029. Panos ran for judge as a Republican, cross-filed as a Democrat, and won unopposed in the general election that is required one year after appointment. In 75 percent of the hearings Panos presided over last January, he ordered the defendant held without bond.

There are two ways to become a Circuit Court judge in Maryland: by gubernatorial appointment or through a general election by voters. After a successful election, a term is 15 years. That means 15 years of deciding whether a legally innocent person is worthy of waiting and preparing for their trial at home or in a cage. Fifteen years of making these decisions in the name of public safety. Fifteen years of holding the power to look at human beings, their case files, and limited arguments in order to determine the path of a person’s life.

Perception is important in courtrooms. In bail reviews, everything depends on how a judge perceives the person standing before them. Courtrooms are theaters; lawyers and judges perform their roles and say their pieces. During bail reviews, judges will often say that they appreciate the defense’s advocacy. Judges will listen with compassion —– and still, force the person to stay in jail, cut off from their loved ones, and unable to receive care.

Judges in the idealized public imagination are impartial, and, therefore, fit to decide on the freedom of those in our city. But this is far from reality. Since white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy are in the air we breathe, no judge is unaffected by preconceived notions, biases, and prejudices. Judges are not inherently good or bad people, nor are they better than the community they serve. When a judge makes the decision to hold someone without bond, even while expressing regret about the decision, they are rejecting the moral consequences of a decision and deflecting responsibility. It is a choice to cage someone — a choice that judges make often.”

The state has perverted the meaning of care. Care is making sure everyone in a community has an abundance of resources and access to everything they need to live. Care is not a powerful person ordering someone confined and then asserting their own moral goodness. Legality, and therefore criminality, is not morality. Judges can simultaneously offer platitudes, express regret, and sentence a person to a cage. There is no care in cages. There is no care in separating someone from their loved ones.

Baltimore City residents deserve care that is holistic and complete. Baltimore residents deserve care that builds towards a better world — the world that many activists and organizers here are trying to create. Every single person in Baltimore City deserves to be housed and to have enough food. The people of Baltimore deserve access to medical care, mental health care, education, support, and love for their families and community. Since the state is only interested in increasing and funding police, we have to care for each other.