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The Rise and Fall of Maxine Thomas : Judge Afflicted by Professional, Personal Trauma

May 06, 1988|ROXANE ARNOLD and TERRY PRISTIN | Times Staff Writers

George W. Trammell, who succeeded Thomas as presiding judge, said a review showed her "productivity was within the bounds of reason." But numerous prosecutors and defense attorneys complained that her work schedule created havoc.

The rumors about drugs, whispered among court insiders until that point, surfaced publicly in conversations between judges and journalists.

"I think the thing just started on its own inertia . . .," one judge said. "I think it was more people trying to rationalize bizarre behavior."

Despite the problems, Thomas kept working and, on her last morning, was hearing a gang-related murder case when friends say she simply reached her limit.

Her emotional collapse apparently was triggered when a deputy public defender challenged her objectivity. Thomas retreated to her chambers to check some points of law. She never returned to the courtroom.

"I put her to bed, and I made her some homemade chicken soup . . .," Washington said. "She cried the whole time."

Admitted to a hospital, Thomas stayed for several weeks. With Thomas unable to speak on her own behalf, Cochran held a press conference to rebut the drug allegations.

"She was totally stressed out, from the standpoint of her ability to cope," Cochran explained. In the months that followed, Thomas was in and out of hospitals.

"She has periods of deep depression," said attorney Green, who screens phone calls for Thomas. "Her whole personality has changed. She used to be a bubbly, effervescent person. She's much quieter now, withdrawn."

Although Thomas originally planned to seek reelection to the Municipal Court, she announced through Cochran last month that she was unable to proceed. Hearings on her request for a disability pension are pending.

Time at Home

In the meantime, she spends much of her time at home with her mother. She talks daily with close friends like Washington and occasionally ventures out to visit others or attend a church service. Unable to drive, she usually is chauffeured by companions.

"She wants to get her strength back," said Clarence Harris, her friend and financial adviser. "She's very tired right now, needs time to herself."

Harris and others say it is far too soon to speculate about the years ahead. Most of them are too consumed with their own "what ifs" when it comes to Thomas.

"Some of us who have stood on the sidelines have to bear some responsibility for what has happened to her," said Mary Henry, a friend of 10 years. "Maybe some of us should have made a little more noise."

For now, doctors say, Thomas should not even consider a return to law, much less to the courts.

"I think right now the doctors are saying not in the near future," Green said. " . . . I'm not a doctor, but my personal view would be never."

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