The Sun


by The Baltimore Sun

December 24, 1995 Page(s): 4C
Section: METRO
Length: 1492 words
Biographee: COLUMN, LETTER
Record Number: BSUN427922


Campaign for Circuit Court is about qualifications, not race or gender

Maryland's Constitution allows the governor to fill Circuit Court vacancies only until the next election. Judicial appointments are therefore only "interim."
Unfortunately, the obvious importance of having an interim judge dispense speedy justice was subordinated by Gov. Parris Glendening's eight-month delay so he
could implement his "diversity" agenda.

Everyone expected politics to guide the governor's selection process. The "recommendation" of Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton by Howard County
Councilman Vernon Gray should surprise nobody. Kevin Thomas' concern that the judicial campaign may be a "referendum on race" (Dec. 3) is unfounded and
insulting. Although politics guided the appointment process, the electoral process must be guided by substantive criteria such as qualifications, experience and sound
legal knowledge. The qualifications and experience of District Court Judge Lenore Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith are well known in Howard County.

Judge Gelfman has served with distinction on our District Court bench for years. Mr. Smith is author of a criminal procedure book and has a reputation around the
courthouse as a very capable litigator.

We are lucky to have a judicial race in which such well-respected and professionally successful persons as Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith are willing to run. Race or
gender are not judicial qualifications imposed by statute or custom and I suggest they should not be considered by the voters. If we in Howard County had given any
consideration to gender diversity in the last governor's race, it is likely that Gov. Ellen Sauerbrey would have made the interim judicial appointments.

David A. Titman

Ellicott City

Both Kevin Thomas' column and Neil E. Axel's "letter to the editor" in the Dec. 3 edition of The Sun for Howard criticized Judge Lenore Gelfman and Jonathan
Scott Smith for running for judge in Howard County. In doing so, both do a disservice to the accomplishments and motivations of these candidates.

Mr. Axel wrote at length about the virtues of the judicial selection process that culminates in the governor appointing from a list of candidates and demonstrated his
own dislike for judicial elections.

The Maryland Constitution, however, provides that Circuit Court judges are to be elected by the citizens of the county in which they serve. Mr. Axel does not offer
specific criticism of Judge Gelfman's or Mr. Smith's qualifications, but asks the citizens of Howard County to believe that the governor was not motivated by political
considerations when he appointed two individuals whose professional contacts are limited to two jurisdictions from the very short list of jurisdictions that went his
way in the gubernatorial election. His out-of-place query of how Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith would react to the process had they had been appointed to the bench
begs the issue of who is best qualified to serve the Howard County community. Mr. Thomas goes beyond unsubstantiated claims of sour grapes, and, with the
campaigns not even a week old, injected race into the election. Certain objections may be made to Judge Donna Hill Staton's qualification that are specific to her,
just as they might to any of the other three candidates. The coming judicial election provides the citizens of Howard County with the opportunity to examine two sets
of candidates with notably different backgrounds and experience. Judge Leasure and Judge Hill Staton have experience in civil law, having practiced in law firms
outside of Howard County. Mr. Axel believes that being employed as attorneys in other jurisdictions will result in them bringing fresh ideas to the bench.

Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith, on the other hand, have practiced law within Howard County. Their responsibilities have included trial work in both civil and criminal
law. Other important differences will be brought forward by the respective candidates as the campaigns begin to move forward.

It would be a shame for the citizens of Howard County if an election that provides them with real choices is sullied by spurious allegations. It is an insult to Judge
Gelfman and Mr. Smith to suggest that they are making the enormous commitment to running in the election merely because of "sour grapes." Likewise, it is an insult
to Judge Hill Staton to focus the election on affirmative action and to overlook her accomplishments and experience. Commentators and members of the legal
community in Howard County should not be wasting the citizens' time by grumbling about the fact that there is going to be a contested election. They should instead
be writing letters and columns trumpeting the successes of their favored candidates.

Richard S. Bernhardt

Ellicott City

Copyright 1995, 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company