Just two days after the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard emotional testimony from the widow of Washington County Circuit judge Andrew F. Wilkinson about her husband’s murder, the panel voted Friday to advance legislation that would protect personal information of judicial officials.
The 10-1 vote moved Senate Bill 575 to the full Senate chamber, where discussion could take place early next week.
The legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul D. Corderman (R-Washington and Frederick) comes less than four months after Wilkinson was shot and killed in front of his home by a man who disagreed with the judge’s ruling on a divorce proceeding.
The bill, named after Wilkinson, would allow a “protected individual,” or the Office of Information Privacy in the Administrative Office of the Courts, to request that a government entity or individual not publish personal information on the internet, social media, or “social networks,” or remove the information from any existing publication.
A “protected individual” includes a current or retired judge from a district, circuit, or federal court, a magistrate judge who resides in the state and a current or retired commissioner of the district court.
Those individuals’ spouses, children and other dependents “who reside in the same household” would also be protected.
Some of the personal information that would not be available online are home addresses, home and mobile telephone numbers, a bank account number and a birth or marital record.
Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) was the only senator on the committee to vote against the bill.
Sydnor requested an amendment that would have provided an individual with advanced notice on whether that person has knowingly published private information.
A few committee members such as Sen. William D. Folden (R-Frederick) said the bill specifies whether a person “knows or reasonably should know” that publishing information can pose an imminent and serious threat. Some of those actions include assault, harassment, trespass, or malicious destruction of property.
“That is the whole idea behind this bill to not be able to feel required to notify someone…because it’s too late in extreme circumstances like what happened to Judge Wilkinson,” Folden said.
The committee also approved a few amendments, including not publishing, or removing, a protected individual’s family member’s place of employment. The early version of the bill shielded a judge’s place of employment.
Another amendment approved would increase the number of individuals who would serve on a task force to assess the safety of judicial facilities. Additional members would now include the president of the Maryland State Bar Association, a representative with the state Office of Public Defender and a representative with the Conference of Orphans Court Judges.
Some of the work of the task force would include identifying safe public areas of courthouses, assessing minimum standards for secure entry and exit of judicial officers from court facilities and developing a plan to address any security deficiencies that may exist in courthouses.
The House version of the bill – House Bill 664 – also received a hearing on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee. That panel didn’t convene on Friday but is scheduled to resume bill hearings and discussions on Tuesday.