The Sun

Judges address crime issue
Foes of Leasure, Hill Staton have stressed getting tough

by Howard Libit SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

October 18, 1996 Page(s): 1B
Section: METRO
Length: 640 words
Index Terms:
Howard County

Record Number: BSUN477080


Pushed by their opponents, Howard County Circuit Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton tackled the crime issue publicly for the first time before a group of senior citizens yesterday.

"There is not one of us in this room not concerned about crime," Leasure told an audience of 35 at the Florence Bain Senior Center. "Believe me, we see it during the {time} we sit on the criminal docket."

The sitting judges' public comments appeared to be a response to the weeks of tough-on-crime messages delivered in debates, literature and television commercials by their opponents, District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith.

The two tickets are vying for two of the five judgeships on Howard's Circuit Court in the Nov. 5 general election.

In their standard speeches earlier this fall, Leasure and Hill Staton did not talk about crime. For example, at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Elkridge Community Association last month, neither raised the crime issue.

The two sitting judges held a news conference two weeks ago at which they explained why judicial ethics prevented them from tackling such specific criminal issues as the death penalty and sentencing.

Yesterday's comments didn't cross the ethical lines set out by the sitting judges, and Hill Staton urged the senior citizen audience to look beyond the fear of crime and consider the candidates' experience and temperament.

She said experience is most important and that she and Leasure are the only candidates who have been circuit judges for the past 10 months. "Others talk about our jobs," Hill Staton said. "We've been living it every day."

The inclusion of the crime issue in the sitting judges' public presentation appears to be a sign that their challengers have succeeded, at least in part, in setting the agenda for the election.

From the start of the campaign, the challengers -- particularly Smith -- have repeatedly pounded away at the safety fears of county residents, emphasizing the rise in violent crime.

Smith, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, has promised repeatedly to be a tough judge willing to give harsh sentences to repeat offenders, a pledge he made again yesterday at the senior center.

"The system has gotten too lazy," Smith said, criticizing plea bargains that result in light sentences. "It's not effectively dealing with what's happening in the community."

Smith pointed to the endorsement he and Gelfman received this week from two former police chiefs as evidence that the challengers are the best choices to tackle crime.

Gelfman, who did not attend yesterday's forum because she was in Annapolis teaching a judicial training course, was represented by her younger brother. David H. Greenberg, an attorney, did little more than recite Gelfman's experience as a prosecutor, lawyer and judge.

Like Leasure, Hill Staton said that "we're all concerned about crime." She mentioned her two daughters and her widowed mother as reasons she is worried about safety.

The sitting judges' stump speeches and comments about crime came after Smith delivered his customary fiery speech about how the community has become unsafe since his days as a teen-ager in Ellicott City.

Hill Staton noted that judges' power is limited, saying they "determine the disposition -- what to do with people at sentencing," according to guidelines that judges use to determine sentences. "Most people want judges who would use discretion and listen to what is said."

Pub Date: 10/18/96

Copyright 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company