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Former judge pleads guilty to having defendant shocked in court

MARYLAND -- A former Maryland judge pleaded guilty Monday to a civil rights violation for ordering a defendant to be physically shocked in his courtroom.

Robert C. Nalley of La Plata, Maryland, gave the order in July 2014 while presiding over a criminal trial for a man who was representing himself, according to the plea deal's statement of facts.

During jury selection, the defendant, reading from a prepared statement, objected to Nalley's authority to conduct the proceedings. After the man repeatedly ignored Nalley's questions and his commands to stop speaking, Nalley ordered a deputy sheriff to activate a "stun-cuff" the defendant was wearing.

"Do it. Use it," Nalley said.

The defendant stopped speaking when the deputy sheriff approached him and activated the device, which administered an electric shock for about five seconds. The defendant fell to the ground and screamed and Nalley then recessed the proceedings, according to the plea deal's statement of facts.

Nalley, now 72, also acknowledged as part of the deal "that the use of the stun cuff was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances."

Nalley's attorney, Robert Bonsib, said in a telephone interview that he had appeared numerous times before Nalley, who was a judge in Charles County from 1988 to September 2014. Bonsib said he "always found him to be a fine trial judge." He said he would have more to say at sentencing, which was scheduled for March 31.

The judge faces a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000, but according to the plea agreement, both prosecutors and Nalley's lawyer will recommend a sentence of one year probation.

"Disruptive defendants may be excluded from the courtroom and prosecuted for obstruction of justice and contempt of court, but force may not be used in the absence of danger," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

The Maryland Court of Appeals rescinded Nalley's ability to hear cases several months after the incident.

This is not the first time Nalley has been a defendant. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to tampering with a vehicle after he deflated the tire of a cleaning woman's car that was parked in a restricted zone at the courthouse. As a result, he was fined, had to write a letter of apology and was suspended for five days without pay.