Baltimore judges' race may be decided Nov. 6

September 13, 1990|By M. Dion Thompson

The fate of the three Baltimore Circuit Court judges running in Tuesday's primary election may have to be decided in the Nov. 6 general election as the result of the strong performance by the lower court judge who ran against them, Paul A. Smith.

With 98.8 percent of the vote counted, Judge Smith appeared to have secured a second-place finish in the Democratic primary, but he apparently lost to the three sitting Circuit Court judges -- Ellen L. Hollander, Richard T. Rombro and John C. Themelis -- in the little-noticed Republican primary.

If that result holds up, the whole campaign will in effect be replayed in the general election. All four names would appear on the general election ballot and voters would be asked to choose three of the four. Thus, even though Judge Hollander was the chief vote-getter in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and outpolled her two Circuit Court colleagues and the challenger, Judge Smith, by more than 10,000 votes, she would still have to finish in the top three in the general election to retain her seat.

"It's a brand new ball game," said Judge Hollander. "I don't intend to sit back and relax. I will be working very hard, as I know my colleagues will."

The one development that could prevent another tough general election campaign for the judgeships is a final vote count that bumps Judge Smith out of the top three in the Democratic primary. As of now, he is second to Judge Hollander, but his margin of votes over Judges Rombro and Themelis is so small that it could vanish once the absentee votes are counted.

But Judge Smith said he doesn't expect the absentee ballots to change the standings in the Democratic primary. "If the absentee numbers are in the same proportion as the votes that we now have, I'm a shoo-in," he said.

"It's so close," said Judge Themelis. "I don't see how anybody could call the race at this point."

The three sitting judges are all white and ran together as the "home run team" with the support of Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his allies in Baltimore. If there is a contested general election, the three sitting judges will run together again, they said yesterday. Judge Smith is black and based his campaign on the contention that black judges are vastly under-represented on the 24-member Circuit Court bench.

The surprise of the campaign was Judge Hollander's especially strong showing, since she had been considered the most vulnerable.

"I can't explain the vote disparity," said Judge Hollander. "I vigorously promoted all three of us and I intend to continue to do that."

History has shown that a strong showing in the primary does not ensure a repeat performance in the general. In 1982, Baltimore attorney Kenneth L. Johnson finished far out of the running in the Democratic primary and barely made the cut in the Republican primary. However, he led the field in the general election and won a 15-year term to the court.

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