The Sun

Judges promise apolitical campaign
Two new appointees already face challenge in March 5 primary

by James M. Coram SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

December 18, 1995 Page(s): 1B
Section: METRO
Length: 951 words
Index Terms:
Howard County

Record Number: BSUN426630


Howard County's two newest circuit judges say they plan to eschew politics as they campaign for election this spring.

"What we want people to understand is that we are the judges -- not just candidates seeking to become judges," Donna Hill Staton said of herself and Diane O.
Leasure, who plan to file as candidates this week.

The two outlined their apolitical strategy last week, as they prepared to meet what promises to be a vigorous attempt to unseat them by District Judge Lenore R.
Gelfman, a Democrat, and Columbia attorney Jonathan Scott Smith, a Republican.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed the two judges in October, in keeping with his plan to ensure gender and racial diversity on the bench. Judge Leasure is the
county's first woman to serve on the Circuit Court bench. Judge Hill Staton is the county's first African-American Circuit Court jurist.

Like all newly appointed judges, the two must be confirmed at the polls in the first general election after their appointment. The election is in November, but they first
must survive the March 5 primary.

Candidates for circuit judge may run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The two highest vote-getters in each primary will appear on the ballot in

There have been challenges in past judicial elections, but the legal community sup-ported the appointed judges. This time, the local bar association is divided.

And the race is complicated by other issues. Some see support for Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith as a way to get back at Mr. Glendening for making what they
perceive as political appointments. Others want to get even with Democratic County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who they believe had a hand in the appointment.

Still others see support for the Gelfman-Smith ticket as an opportunity for local Republicans to flex their bulging political muscle and put one of their own on the
circuit bench.

Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith say the issue is court experience, especially in criminal cases. They say they have more than either Judge Leasure or Judge Hill Staton
and should therefore replace them.

Judge Leasure, a former president of the Prince George's County Bar Association, and Judge Hill Staton, a former partner in the Baltimore law firm of Piper &
Marbury, say they have experience and are adding to it daily as circuit judges.

"We have jumped in with both feet and very quickly assumed responsibility for our own dockets," Judge Leasure said in an interview last week. "The other {circuit}
judges are very happy to see us. We very enthusiastically help other judges take cases when their docket is filled."

"As they would do for us," Judge Hill Staton interjected. "We are a team of judges seeking to move cases along without sacrificing quality."

The position filled by Judge Hill Staton was added this year to help relieve pressure on a Circuit Court docket that became even more crowded this spring when
Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. retired.

The new judges say they are sorry this is a contested election because it prevents them from devoting all their time to the bench.

It is essential to spend time reading court files and be "well-prepared for each case," Judge Leasure said.

She and Judge Hill Staton have a "strong work ethic" that extends their workday to ensure that attorneys, witnesses and litigants are treated equitably, she said.

"We are sitting in judgment on people's claims and sometimes their lives," Judge Hill Staton said. "Interpreting the law, applying it firmly, treating all litigants fairly --
those are not political issues. To make it political is a disservice to the community."

She said county residents want judges to be people of "demeanor, experience and integrity," not politicians.

Judge Leasure said she believes that in next year's election, "people will look at what they think is best for the county. They will look beyond the political scenario
someone is trying to create because of their own political ambitions."

If a fund-raiser last week is any indication, rank-and-file Republicans appear to be supporting the Gelfman-Smith ticket.

Only one Democratic officeholder -- Del. Shane Pendergrass -- showed up at their fund-raiser in Columbia. But Republicans turned out en masse: Those attending
included Council Chairman Darrel Drown; former Chairman Charles C. Feaga; Del. Robert L. Flanagan; Circuit Court Clerk Margaret D. Rappaport, and most of
the Republican Central Committee.

Also attending were Michael A. Chiuchiolo, the county sheriff, and Kay Hartleb, the register of wills, both of whom recently switched parties to become

"Jonathan Scott Smith certainly touched a Republican nerve," said Mr. Feaga, who noted that Republicans are not well represented on the bench. "And Lenore was
deprived of something that should have been automatically hers."

Many county attorneys had expected Judge Gelfman to become the county's first woman judge. She and Mr. Smith were on the list of nominees sent the governor.

Judge Hill Staton and Judge Leasure will hold their initial fund-raiser -- a $100-a-person affair -- Jan. 11 in Columbia.


Caption: Candidates: Newly appointed Judges Diane O. Leasure (left) and Donna Hill Staton say they'll avoid politics in their campaigns.


Copyright 1995, 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company