Seniority Vs. New Faces Is Question In Court Races

September 23, 1990|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,SUN STAFF

At first glance, they don't seem like politicians at all.

They never discuss abortion rights, controlling development, better county schools or tougher law enforcement. They don't debate, or hold many fund-raisers. Their signs are few and their media advertisements fewer.

But for the candidates running for Clerk of Circuit Court, Register of Wills and Orphan's Court Judge, the issues are many and the jobs important.

And the battle for votes could be tough.

In the race for Clerk of Circuit Court and Register of Wills, Democratic challengers are trying to unseat incumbents who have held their jobs for more than a decade.

The incumbents say they should be re-elected because they know how to run the offices and they do it well.

Their challengers assert that they can do it more efficiently and that it's time there was some new blood in court administration.

Diane O'Leary, 52, defeated Robert Erb in the primary election to win the Democratic nomination for Clerk of Circuit Court. In November, O'Leary again will face her former boss, GOP incumbent Larry Shipley.

O'Leary ran unsuccessfully against Shipley for the clerk's position in 1986.

After he won the 1986 election, Shipley fired O'Leary from the deputy clerk post she had held for 10 years.

She sued him in 1987 and lost. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals sent the case back to Anne Arundel Circuit Court to be retried by the same judge.

The Anne Arundel circuit judge ruled that Shipley had the right not to reappoint her, and she decided not to appeal again.

The Westminster mother of four has been employed since then as a clerk for the Motor Vehicle Administration.

O'Leary said she wants to be the Clerk of Circuit Court because she knows how to make the office work more efficiently.

"I feel that I am the best qualified because I've worked every aspect of the job, civil cases and criminal," said O'Leary.

She said one of the things she would like to change in the clerk's office is the way personnel problems are handled.

"There has got to be some unification of the clerks. The best way to handle personnel problems is through management, and I don't think they are being handled properly now," she said.

Shipley, 45, said he is happy with the progress the clerk's office has made since he first took office in 1978.

He said he is proud that his office was chosen as a pilot site for computerization.

And he disputes O'Leary's claim that there is dissension among the deputy clerks.

He said there may have been problems among the clerks four or five years ago, "but everyone seems to be happy working together now."

Shipley had no challenger for the Republican party endorsement, and just began campaigning after the primary.

In the race for Register of Wills, Democratic challenger Gail Reilly Cross claims she will give county residents a much-needed introduction to the office she seeks.

Cross said people don't understand any more about the office that maintains the records of county residents' wills and estates than they did 24 years ago, when her opponent took office.

Cross, 48, an Orphans' Court Judge for more than three years, is a past president of the county Democratic Club, the South Carroll Democratic Club and the Liberty Democratic Association.

She works as a contract negotiator for the State Highway Administration in Frederick.

She decided to run for the $40,000-a-year-post, in part, she said, because "no office in government should go untended and unchanged."

Reese Starner, the Republican who has been Register of Wills since 1966, said he thinks having the office for a long time is an asset, not a liability.

"If elected, I will continue to give good service to the people of this community," Starner said.

He said those who claim they will make a lot of changes in the office are, "talking from inexperience."

The issues in the race for the three seats on the Orphans' Court are not as sharply delineated.

All of the candidates -- including the three incumbent judges -- say they want to serve the community. They all say they can do the best job of reviewing registered estates, resolving estate disputes and making sure the wishes expressed in wills are carried out.

Running for re-election to the $1,500-a-year post are Republicans Walter T. Haines Jr. and Albert W. Selby and Democrat Harry B. Dougherty Sr.

They are being challenged by Republican Harrison E. Utz and Democrat William H. Gabeler III.

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