The outcome of the closely contested Baltimore Circuit Court judgeship race apparently will not be decided until a final count in the city is completed, possibly late today.
The three incumbent judges, Ellen L. Hollander, Richard T. Rombro and John C. Themelis, were trying to stave off a challenge from Baltimore District Court Judge Paul A. Smith.
But with 85 percent of the votes counted last night, Smith appeared to be winning in the Democratic primary.
Smith had 25,445 votes to 25,140 for Themelis and 25,111 for Rombro. Hollander was leading in that primary with 34,304. Smith trailed Themelis by 412 votes for the third spot in the Republican primary.
Frederick Charleston Sr., the fifth candidate, was not a factor in the race, finishing a distant last in both primaries.
Judgeship candidates run without party affiliation and must win one of the two primaries to advance to the general election. If Smith wins in one of the primaries, then he and the three incumbents will battle it out in the November general election.
Barbara Jackson, city election board administrator, said there were "a number of sheets that couldn't be counted last night because either election judges couldn't read the information off the print packs from the voting machines or they didn't fill the return sheets correctly."
Jackson said she hopes to have an unofficial final count later today.
The other incumbent Circuit Court judges around the state who faced challenges won handily.
Smith, who is black, decided to run for a seat on the bench after being twice passed over for an appointment by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. In each instance, the governor picked a white attorney as his appointee.
The last time three white incumbent judges faced a challenge came in 1982, and two of the so-called sitting judges lost.
Smith campaigned as the most experienced candidate for the job, touting his 19 years of judicial work. That includes being a court master from 1971 until 1983, when he was appointed to the state District Court in Baltimore.
"Judges are not just appointed, they are made through years of experience," Smith said.
Smith's comment is a direct reference to the point repeatedly driven home by the three incumbent judges: That they were the ones who were appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer over other applicants, including Smith.
The three incumbent judges countered by saying that between them, they had 65 years of trial work as attorneys and judges.
They noted that, as Circuit Court judges, they handled complex felony criminal and civil cases while a District Court judge doesn't handle jury trials or felony cases.