The Sun

Judgeship campaign should be a nasty one

by Kevin Thomas The Baltimore Sun

December 3, 1995 Page(s): 4C
Section: METRO
Length: 721 words

Record Number: BSUN425313


BATTEN DOWN the hatches, Howard countians.

You are about to be bombarded with what could be one of the nastiest local campaigns in recent memory.

The entry of Howard District Court Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and lawyer Jonathan Scott Smith into the race for Circuit Court judgeships promises to be a bruiser.
In announcing their candidacies, Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith came out swinging against Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton, both of whom were
recently appointed to the bench by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Under state law, such appointments must be affirmed in a general election. A victory by Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith in a primary March 5 would remove Judges
Leasure and Staton from the bench.

Normally, a campaign builds to a climax. But Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith dropped bombs right at the beginning.

Judge Gelfman set the stage by saying "the Circuit Court is not a training ground," and that citizens expected fair, impartial judges with the "experience necessary to
preside over the case." If that were true, no attorneys would be made judges unless they had first received specific training, something Judge Gelfman cannot claim to
have had when she was named to the bench by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. She had no more experience than Judges Leasure or Staton.

In a statement released by a spokeswoman for the Gelfman-Smith campaign, the two stated that their goal in running was to "take politics out of the courtroom" so
that residents could have judges who were "most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge."

Of course, what we really have is two people who thought they should be judges being denied access to the bench.

Sour grapes

Entering the race has nothing to do with removing political bias from the process. Bias isn't necessarily something to be frowned on, and Judge Gelfman and Ms.
Stanton have actually introduced a personal bias into the process they say they want to cleanse.

I call this sour grapes.

Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith point out that they topped a list of candidates in informal polls conducted by the Howard County Bar Association. But such polls are
little more than popularity contests.

As far as the judiciary is concerned, state law gives the governor, and ultimately county voters, the final say. Attorneys should never be in a position to dictate which
persons will sit as judges on cases they bring before the court.

Most unfortunate of all that happened last week, the challengers singled out Judge Staton, the first black woman to sit on the county's Circuit Court, as unqualified
because she was not included on the first list of candidates proposed to the governor by a local judicial nominating committee.

A second list, supplied by a new committee, did include Judge Staton. That committee had been instructed by the governor to consider diversity in making its
selections. Both committees had recommended Ms. Leasure.

But by pointing the finger almost exclusively at Judge Staton, the challengers have injected an unfortunate undertone into the process that will likely haunt their

Referendum on race?

Making the campaign a referendum on affirmative action is a mistake. It will not engender Judge Gelfman or Mr. Smith to those who believe that women and
minorities can be qualified and then some because of a unique perspective on issues that come before the court.

Being sensitive and having perspective, especially among those who sit in judgment of others, is something that needs to be valued. Fairness is at issue.

Apparently, Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith do not value these things as highly.

While their campaign for Circuit Court judgeships might normally attract only those in the legal community, the introduction of race in such a negative fashion, it is
hoped, will spur an unprecedented level of interest among a wider spectrum of county voters.

On that basis alone, we're in for a humdinger.

Kevin Thomas is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Copyright 1995, 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company