Compassion is the key trait the six candidates for Howard County Orphans' Court use when describing their qualifications for the job.
Candidates for the Orphans' Court, which requires its judges to settle the division of estates of the deceased, include two Democratic incumbents and four newcomers with various political and business backgrounds.
"The job entails decision-making during very emotional times," said 51-year-old Republican candidate Ronald L. Ledford of Columbia. "Things have to be solved fairly. People's financial futures are at stake."
Ledford, a current member of the Republican Central Committee and former chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, is a budget manager for Bell Atlantic Co. "My experience in accounting and local politics has taught me how to relate to people under a variety of circumstances," he said.
Presently the three-judge court comprises only Democrats, two of whom -- Rosemary M. Ford and Frank S. Turner -- are seeking another four-year term.
Ford, 65, has been a judge since 1984. Turner, 43, the first black to serve on the court, was appointed to his current position by Gov. William D.
Schaefer in May.
The only candidate with a law degree, Turner, a Columbia resident, is a former professor of business and real estate law at Morgan State University. He is a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Maryland.
"Being an incumbent, I know how the court is run and understand the procedures involved," said Turner. "I'll be fair, compassionate and equitable in all decisions."
State law prohibits the Orphans' Court judges from practicing law. Also, in the less-formal Orphans Court, decisions are usually made within a 60- to 90-day period.
Ford, a former owner and operator of a floral shop in Elkridge, is a member of the Maryland Association of Orphans' Court Judges and the National College of Probate Judges. She has attended several national and local seminars.
"Experience is my biggest asset," said Ford. "I take a common-sense approach to my job. I'm a good listener and organizer and enjoy helping people."
Catherine Walters, a Republican, feels that more local government positions should be filled by those of her party. "You need a balance of the two ideologies," she said.
Like Ledford, Walters is currently a member of her party's central committee and was elected to another term on the committee in the September primary. The 35-year-old homemaker says she is not running for the Orphans' Court as a steppingstone to higher political offices but because she "cares a lot about people."
"The office requires a mixture of sympathy, concern, and leadership," said Walters, who previously was a small-business owner and also a sales office manager for a regional hotel firm.
Charles M. Coles Jr., a 32-year-old Sykesville farmer, received the second highest number of votes among the four Republican candidates in his party's primary, the first time in a long while that the Republican primary was contested.
Coles, a school bus contractor with Howard County Public Schools, chose not to run for the county's register of wills position as he did in 1986, mainly because of time constraints. The Orphans' Court meets only once a week.
He also does estate appraisals for the Register of Wills office. Some of the other positions he has held are second vice president of the Maryland State Farm Bureau; past chairman of the state Farm Bureau Budget and Finance Committee; and vice president of Shipleys of Maryland, a club for descendants of Adam Shipley, the first person to settle in Howard County in 1687.
"I've versed myself in procedures of the probate court and feel that I'm compassionate enough of a person to help others in a time of loss," he said.
C. Howard Strahler, a 50-year-old Democrat from Ellicott City, has run for county office before. He made unsuccessful bids for county executive in 1978 and for a seat on the County Council in 1982.
Strahler is the president of a family-owned printing firm and past president of the Ellicott City Democratic Club.
"In running my own business, I have dealt with numerous real estate and management matters," he said.
"Being a judge on the Orphans' Court is an important job," Strahler adds. "You have to make sure the people whose cases you're working receive the best possible attention, both financially and emotionally."
The judge's annual salary is $5,000. The governor will appoint one of the three judges elected to be chief judge, which carries an annual salary of $5,800.