The Sun

Former police chiefs endorse Gelfman, Smith
Challengers' experience in criminal law noted in judges' race

by Shanon D. Murray SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

October 17, 1996 Page(s): 5B
Section: METRO
Length: 575 words
Record Number: BSUN477015


Two former Howard County police chiefs announced their endorsement yesterday of District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith in their bid for seats on the Howard County Circuit Court.

Robert O. Mathews and Paul H. Rappaport cited the "extensive criminal law experience" of the challengers -- who are campaigning on a tough-on-crime theme -- as reasons for their endorsements.

"If we are going to make our community safe and protect our children, we need judges like Mr. Smith and Judge Gelfman, who have prosecuted criminals," Rappaport, an attorney in private practice who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1994, said at the news conference.

Gelfman, Smith and their campaign chairwoman, Deborah E. Dwyer, attended the news conference.

Mathews, a Cecil County resident who works in the nuclear services division of the Wackenhut Corp., did not.

Rappaport's support for the challengers is not surprising. He sits on their campaign's steering committee and has been listed on campaign letterheads since before the March primary vote. He is prominently displayed in some of their recent campaign literature.

The endorsement comes on the heels of two pointed TV ads from the competing campaign of sitting Circuit Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton -- ads that question the challengers' commitment to their crime theme. The two slates face off in the Nov. 5 general election.

Yesterday, Smith said crime is the "defining issue of the campaign," while highlighting his experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney. "I've done both. {Leasure and Hill Staton} have done neither. I have two assets, they have none."

Meanwhile, Gelfman sought to clarify her duties as a district judge, which another TV campaign ad from the sitting judges has cast as "traffic court."

She said that in her seven years on the bench, she has tried 19,000 traffic cases that could have been punishable with jail time and at least 10,000 other cases that involved criminal charges, such as assault and battery.

"It's always unwise to criticize or demean anyone else's work, especially when you have no first-hand knowledge," she said of the sitting judges' depiction of District Court.

But in later phone interviews, the sitting judges said the relevance of yesterday's endorsements is debatable, considering that neither of the two former police chiefs still work in public law enforcement.

"I'm not sure what value {the endorsement} has, quite honestly," Leasure said. "If I was an objective voter, I wouldn't give it much credence."

Hill Staton underlined the endorsements she and Leasure have received by "organizations that represent large groups of people," including the Howard County African American Republican Club and various bar associations around the state.

In a phone interview yesterday, Mathews said he and Rappaport have a "full understanding of the criminal aspect in Howard County."

Mathews served as Howard police chief from 1974 until 1979. He was succeeded by Rappaport, who served until 1987.

Pub Date: 10/17/96

Copyright 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company