The Sun

Sadler to retire from bench
Governor's choice of successor could revive diversity issue

by Caitlin Francke SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

May 23, 1996 Page(s): 1B
Section: METRO
Length: 791 words
Index Terms:
Howard County

Record Number: BSUN452365


Howard County District Judge R. Russell Sadler plans to retire in October, a move that may stir again the fractious issue of bringing more diversity to the Howard County bench.

In an interview yesterday, Sadler said that when he turns 70 -- the mandatory retirement age under state law -- he will step down from the post he has held since 1980.

There has never been a black district judge in Howard, and three of the four current judges are men.

As a result, some Howard County political observers predict that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's vow to open doors for women and minorities on the state's traditionally male-dominated benches will play a role in his choice of Sadler's successor.

"I would presume since the governor has professed to be concerned about achieving diversity on the bench that it will be something he will be examining before making an appointment," said Fred Silverstein, president of the Howard County Bar Association.

A Glendening spokesman, Ray Feldman, said it is premature to say whether the governor will make an issue of diversity in the appointment, but he added, "It is his position that you assemble a pool that reflects diversity and then select the most qualified person."

Sadler has not officially announced his retirement, so no one has formally applied for the post.

Many in the Howard legal community are hoping that the appointment will not turn into a political dogfight like the one that developed during a bitter Circuit Court primary race this year.

Glendening's appointments of the county's first black judge -- Donna Hill Staton -- and the first female circuit judge -- Diane O. Leasure -- last fall led to controversy about their qualifications and the process by which they were selected.

In contrast to genteel judicial races of the past, Staton and Leasure faced three formidable opponents this year in a costly campaign that divided the legal community. They and two of the challengers won spots on the November ballot.

"Hopefully, you will not see a repeat," said David Carney, head of the county's 10-member judicial nominating commission, which recommends prospective judges for appointment by the governor. "It's not healthy."

At least one law group says it will support and lobby for qualified black candidates.

"I know our members are interested in seeing the bench diversified in Howard County," said Marilyn Hardin, president of the Waring Mitchell Law Society of Howard County, a majority-black organization. "It's one of the least diversified, not only race but gender."

Hardin said she knows several blacks who are interested in the district judgeship.

A leading black politician in the county, however, said he is wary of politicizing a District Court appointment.

"I would hate to see the same situation occur at the District Court level that occurred at the Circuit Court level," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who represents east Columbia, Savage and Laurel. "I don't think that served the community well."

Silverstein said the chances that the District Court appointment will be controversial may be slim because there is no election and therefore no venue for a heated battle.

District judges are appointed to 10-year terms by the governor from a list of names submitted by the nominating commission. At the end of their terms, they must be reappointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate but do not have to stand for election.

Circuit judges go through the same initial appointment process but must also stand for election in the first general election after their appointments.

Sadler, 69, was appointed to the Howard bench in 1980 by Gov. Harry Hughes. Earlier, he had been deputy county solicitor and legal counsel for the county planning and zoning board in the era of Howard's rapid growth. He also was executive secretary of the Howard County Council from 1979 to 1980.

Sadler grew up in Baltimore. After service in the Navy, he patrolled the Fells Point area as a policeman for seven years while attending law school at night.

After he retires in October, Sadler said, he hopes to continue working as a part-time judge, filling vacancies when needed.

Asked what he will miss most about his job, Sadler said, "I hope to miss nothing. I hope to keep sitting" on the bench.

Pub Date: 5/23/96


Caption: Judge R. Russell Sadler has held his post since 1980.

Copyright 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company