Paul A. Smith, the District Court judge whose strong showing in September's primary proved he could unseat one of three incumbent Baltimore Circuit Court judges in the general election, accepted yesterday the appointment to the Circuit Court that was offered Thursday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer under pressure from Baltimore's black political leadership.
The appointment brings to an end a campaign Judge Smith launched several months ago that sought to capitalize on the frustrations of large numbers of black Baltimore voters who felt Mr. Schaefer had failed to appoint enough blacks to the Baltimore Circuit Court. Though Baltimore's population is more than 60 percent black, only seven of the 23 judges currently on the city's Circuit Court are black.
It also spells the end of virtually the only interesting race on the general election ballot in heavily Democratic Baltimore, where political contests are normally settled in the Democratic primary.
"There will always be speculation about what might have been," Judge Smith said after meeting with Governor Schaefer yesterday at the state office building in Baltimore. "We have demonstrated that a little-known judge, if he had a good cause, could impact on the system."
Judge Smith will be sworn in as a Circuit Court judge Oct. 23, thus filling one of two vacancies on the Circuit Court.
Because of the appointment, Judge Smith's former electoral adversaries, Circuit Judges John C. Themelis, Richard T. Rombro and Ellen L. Hollander, will run unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election. All had been backed by Mr. Schaefer and a large part of the city's white political power structure. The judges, all of whom were appointed by Governor Schaefer, were standing for election as they must do in the first election after their appointment.
Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of election laws, said that Judge Smith would not be a candidate once he was sworn into office and that his name would not appear on the ballot. Though this will create a vacancy on the Democratic slate in the general election, the Democratic State Central Committee could fill that vacancy by nominating Judge Themelis, who failed to finish in the top three in the Democratic primary, he said.
The state Central Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday. Baltimore's Democratic Central Committee met Thursday night and said that if Judge Smith accepted the gubernatorial appointment and created a vacancy, the committee would then support Judge Themelis' nomination to the Democratic slate, Mr. Raynor said.
Judge Smith said the appointment was a victory for his campaign and showed that "the system works if people work the system."
Since beginning his run for the Circuit Court, Judge Smith campaigned by telling his supporters he was the most experienced candidate and by reminding them that the Judicial Nominating Commission had recommended him for each of the three Circuit Court judgeships that eventually went to his challengers.
Because the incumbent judges are white and Judge Smith is black, many in Baltimore feared the general election would break down along racial lines and become painfully divisive.
Judge Smith said he wasn't concerned that his appointment came yesterday, after his strong showing in the primary, rather than during the summer when the Circuit Court vacancies became available.