From the Baltimore Sun
Politics is a balancing act for city's first lady
November 3, 2006
The man told the judge that he had been picked up for trespassing by a
police officer who didn't really want to make the arrest.
"He said, 'I only have to do this for the man who wants to be mayor, I
have to make my quota,' " the defendant said during an appearance at
the Eastside District Court earlier this week.
He didn't get the details quite right -- the man whose administration
is accused of having an arrest quota is Martin O'Malley, and he is
already the mayor but wants to be governor. But the defendant did get
the general outline of the controversy right, that critics say
O'Malley's anti-crime efforts have led police to aggressively arrest
numerous people for the most minor of infractions. City police deny
they have a quota.
Unfortunately, the judge he was telling this to was Catherine "Katie"
Curran O'Malley, associate judge of the District Court of Maryland, and
wife of the mayor, the Democratic nominee for governor. While she
ultimately didn't rule on the case -- the man was wanted in
Pennsylvania on more serious charges, and he was expected to be
extradited there -- it was one of those occasions when her role as a
judge collides with her role as the mayor's wife.
It might only get more complicated if her husband were to win next
week's election -- any state-appointed jobs, such as an appointment to
the circuit or appellate court, would be "obviously nepotism," she says.
"As the spouse of a public servant, you have to watch the jobs you
take; you do have possible conflicts," she said in a recent interview.
Like being, she says, "a lawyer for a company lobbying for legislation."
You mean, like Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s wife, Kendel, working for
Comcast, I ask.
"I didn't say that," she says coyly. "You did."
O'Malley, of course, knows exactly what she's saying. Before she was an
O'Malley, after all, she was a Curran -- the daughter of J. Joseph
Curran, Jr., the retiring Maryland attorney general whose family is
long entrenched in state and local politics.
Which is why it's so unusual for Katie O'Malley, 44, a fixture on the
political campaigns that her father and her husband have run over the
years, to uncharacteristically sit out most of this one. As a judge,
she is banned from politicking for other candidates, even the one she
married, so during the campaign, her role as the smiling, supportive
spouse has been filled by other Currans or O'Malleys.
She does keep abreast of what's happening, quizzing aides on how things
are going on the campaign trail, but truth be told, she doesn't mind
having a state-mandated excuse for not being on it herself.
"It's actually been a godsend, because we have children," she said of
their two daughters and two sons, "and they are high maintenance."
Even without campaign duties, it's a full life. She relies on a
veritable "village" of friends and family who help her on the home
front, showing up at the O'Malley home in Northeast Baltimore with
dinners and offers to babysit.
"I don't have any hired help," she says. "But I have help from a lot of
sources. I even have this girlfriend who rearranged all the pots and
pans in my kitchen; she couldn't stand the way they were."
She has never ruled out a run for office of her own, but not now, not
with four young children. "I enjoy coming home at night and being with
my kids," she says. Besides, she adds, her work as a judge is public
service. For now, any races she runs are of the sporting kind -- she
has completed a couple of marathons, and participates in events like
last month's 5K Race for the Cure.
Assigned to the Eastside court at 1400 E. North Ave., one of several
locations in the city where cases involving rental disputes,
misdemeanors, lesser felonies, domestic violence and peace orders are
heard, Judge O'Malley strides on high heels through the daily dramas
that play out in the hallways and in the courtrooms. She jokes with
other judges, bailiffs and lawyers, and seems as animated on the bench
as she is off it, entering her courtroom in a blur of black robe and a
thick cloud of hair. She alternately breaks into wide grins and
exaggerated frowny faces at something a lawyer tells her and scrunches
up her features at defendants who show up without a lawyer and ask for
another delay or simply run out of excuses.
"Why'd ya take her car?" she asked one defendant who is charged with
racking up thousands of dollars of damage on a car he "borrowed"
without the owner's OK
"Relapse," is all the guy can come up with.
"We gotta get you sober," she says as she reviews his long criminal
Many of the cases she sees are, at root, drug cases, she says. "There
are so many addicts and not enough drug treatment programs. It's very,
And indeed, case after case unfurls in dreary similarity on this
particular day: Subject observed by police at known drug market, chased
on foot or by car as bag or vial of suspected something or other gets
tossed or is found in pocket. The courtroom becomes a secular
confessional, with penitents going, heads bowed, before the judge: A
tearful woman is mostly silent but has her attorney tell O'Malley that
she is proud of her three sons and that she has enrolled in detox. A
man wants her to know he's since gotten a job and has stopped smoking.
Not all are sorrowful, and O'Malley berates one for a bad attitude --
he spit on a cop during a traffic stop and doesn't appear apologetic
now -- and gives him 50 hours of community service.
Maybe it's the spitting that got to her: She remains outraged even now,
recalling a rally during her husband's 1999 run for mayor when speakers
who were endorsing him were shouted down by another candidates'
opponents, who also started spitting, she says.
So maybe the negativity of this year's campaign shouldn't seem so out
of the ordinary. Still, she says she finds it disheartening, even if
she agrees that both parties engage in it.
"It's been a mean campaign, all across the nation," she says. "This
nastiness -- it's dispiriting. It gets so bitter and personal. The
personal stuff is where it gets ugly, and our family has certainly gone
Last year, an Ehrlich aide was forced to resign for spreading rumors
about the O'Malleys' marriage, prompting the mayor, hand-in-hand with
his wife, to make an announcement outside City Hall that he had always
been faithful to her.
As someone who has grown up in and married into the world of politics,
even a painful incident like that hasn't caused her to run screaming in
the opposite direction, toward the sector that's called private for a
reason. Instead, she's looking forward to what she hopes is a new role
in Annapolis, noting that she's talked about juggling legal work with
being married to a governor with fellow lawyer and former Maryland
first lady, Frances Glendening.
"She's been a great source of advice," she says, before cautiously
knocking on the wooden table that she's sitting at. "Not that I'm
counting chickens till they hatch."
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun