The Sun

Sitting judges renew TV attack
Target is tough claims on crime
challengers raise ethics questions

by Caitlin Francke SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

October 15, 1996 Page(s): 1B
Section: METRO
Length: 1152 words
Index Terms:
Howard County

Record Number: BSUN476414


Two new cable television ads for Howard County Circuit Court Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton sharply criticize their opponents in the electoral race, branding their
tough-on-crime messages hypocritical and misleading.

Released yesterday, the advertisements are the sitting judges' most pointed attack on their opponents, District Judge Lenore Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith.

Yesterday also marked the release of an equally aggressive television ad by the Gelfman-Smith campaign, raising ethical questions about Leasure's role in planning a fund-raiser for Gov. Parris N. Glendening just before her appointment to the bench last year.

The three new television ads contradict months of promises from both sides that the general election campaign would be markedly kinder than last spring's bruising primary faceoff between the same two tickets. More hostilities are likely as the Nov. 5 election nears.

"It's about winning," said Carol Arscott, political consultant for the sitting judges' campaign, who described the new ads as a defensive response to the challengers' attacks. "When a judicial election becomes political, this is what happens. This is why judges should not be elected."

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a District 14B Republican and close adviser to the challengers, said the sitting judges are trying to divert attention from questions that have been raised about Leasure's fund-raising for Glendening.

They "want it both ways," Flanagan said. "They're setting up certain ethical standards for the conduct of the race and then violating those standards."

The incumbent judges' two new ads -- appearing on the CNN and ESPN channels on Comcast Cable -- challenge the central theme of the Gelfman-Smith campaign, that the challengers are tough on crime.

One ad focuses on an 18-month jail sentence handed down by Gelfman three years ago to a drunken driver who killed a Catonsville psychologist.

The second points to Smith's role as a defense attorney, highlighting what the sitting judges' campaign casts as a contradiction between Smith's statements about crime and his telephone book ads -- in which he advertises to defend drunken drivers and repeat offenders.

Leasure said yesterday that the Gelfman-Smith campaign is targeting the hot-button issue of crime and misleading the public.

"We think their campaign from the beginning as been one of hypocrisy," Leasure said. The new ads "are to make the voters aware that what {Gelfman and Smith} are saying is not necessarily true."

Arscott said that being a defense attorney "is not an illegitimate line of work, but it's grossly hypocritical for him to run a campaign saying, `Geez, don't you think criminals get too much protection?' when that's what he does for a living."

In the sitting judges' ad that targets Smith, an off-camera voice cites the kinds of cases for which he advertises: "Repeat drunk driving. Felonies. Drugs and narcotics. Sexual assault. Child abuse."

The ad concludes: "If you think criminals get too much protection, Jonathan Scott Smith isn't the solution, he's part of the problem."

In his campaign literature, Smith outlines his support for the death penalty for "heinous murders," mandatory no-parole prison sentences for repeat offenders and life imprisonment without parole.

Responding to the sitting judges' ad, Smith said yesterday that his job as a defense attorney and his pledge to be tough on criminals is not contradictory.

A defense attorney for 13 years, Smith said he presses clients who are guilty to take responsibility for their actions, asking for a fair punishment. He said the majority of those he represents have been acquitted. "They are innocent people wrongly accused," Smith said.

Half his practice is civil litigation, he said. Because he was a prosecutor for four years, he noted, he has seen the criminal justice system from all sides.

"I was known as a tough prosecutor," Smith said. "I am known as a tough defense attorney, and I will be known as a tough judge."

Added Flanagan: "Even Abraham Lincoln did criminal defense {work}. I think Abraham Lincoln would be tough on crime."

The second new ad focuses on Gelfman, who has run a television ad saying that she will hand down "long, lengthy sentences" when appropriate.

The Gelfman case focused on in the sitting judges' new ad highlights a 1993 case in which Gelfman sentenced a man to 18 months in county jail for homicide by motor vehicle while driving drunk, saying that she wanted him to get treatment for alcoholism. She also ordered him to perform 1,248 hours of community service.

The prosecutor and the victim's family asked that William Scott Marcellino of Germantown be sentenced to five years in state prison. He previously had been convicted of driving while intoxicated in Virginia in 1985.

"Sound like a tough judge to you?" the voice asks.

In an interview on the case, Gelfman said she wanted to strike a balance between Marcellino's punishment and getting him treatment. The state prison system was not equipped to provide treatment, she said, while services were available at the county detention center.

"The prosecutor wants the toughest, most restrictive sentence," said Gelfman, who teaches a course in sentencing to judges at the state's Judicial Institute. "The defense attorney wants the light- est sentence. I, as the judge, want the most effective sentence."

Two representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving said yesterday that Marcellino's sentence was lenient but in line with what other judges across the state were handing out at the time.

"We definitely want to see {offenders} in programs because they have problems that need to be addressed," said Debbie Derwart, a MADD past president, who said she supports Gelfman in the election. "To me, her sentences are objective, decent sentences."

The new TV ads are not the first television attack by the sitting judges on the challengers this fall.

In an advertisement released about two weeks ago, they questioned the challengers' experience on the bench. "Serious matters, not traffic court," the ad stated with pictures of Hill Staton and Leasure wearing judicial robes, in a slap at Gelfman.

Arscott cast the new ads not as an attack but as a response in tone to the challengers' targeting of Leasure's role in fund-raising for the governor.

"Just because Diane and Donna are polite doesn't mean they're going to sit there and not respond," she said.

Pub Date: 10/15/96

Copyright 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company