The chief judge of Baltimore Circuit Court has criticized a coalition of black judges which lobbied for the election of a rookie colleague to a top post on the Maryland Judicial Conference -- a spot normally held by veteran judges.
In a four-page letter sent his colleagues, Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman suggests that three veteran judges in the running for the conference's executive committee withdrew under pressure from the black coalition.
On May 16, Judge Andre Maurice Davis -- who last fall became the second black appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the white-dominated circuit bench -- was unanimously elected to the executive committee of the Judicial Conference. The committee is a panel of 17 judges selected by their peers from all of the state courts.
"It now appears that there is a clique or coalition among the black judges that seeks by a united front and agenda to secure certain results and conditions on the bench," Hammerman wrote in the June 5 letter.
But Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan insisted that the court is not split along racial lines. Hammerman is "way off base," he said.
"There is no polarization on this bench," Kaplan said. "It is racially harmonious. Everybody gets along well."
Kaplan said more than 20 judges voted unanimously for Davis, a former University of Maryland law professor who is highly respected in legal circles.
"I think some people may have resented it because they feel it's not paying your dues," said Kaplan, who twice served two-year terms on the executive committee. "That doesn't mean anything to me. Andre is clearly qualified."
Another judge, who asked not to be identified, said some judges disagreed with Davis' nomination but were hesitant to speak out against it.
"They were too chicken to raise it," the judge said. "Nobody had the gall to speak up."
Racial politics are nothing new on the Circuit Court bench. Last fall, then-District Court Judge Paul A. Smith, who had campaigned all year for election to the Circuit Court, was appointed by the governor, averting an election that pitted Smith, who is black, against three white incumbent judges.
The black community had rallied around Smith, who was passed over by the governor three times and had a strong showing in September's Democratic primary. Eight of the court's 25 judges are black.
Hammerman said in his letter that three white judges -- Edward J. Angeletti, Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman and Marvin Steinberg -- planned to run for the executive committee, which offers recommendations on the administration of justice to the Court of Appeals, the governor and the legislature.
The chief judge wrote that Angeletti and Friedman withdrew "at least in some measure" because of Davis' candidacy. Steinberg withdrew after being visited by one of the black judges and being told that "they had 15 votes committed" to Davis, Hammerman said.
"I do not believe that the long range vitality of the bench, its well-being, its respect in the legal, judicial and general community and the collegiality that we all seek are well served by coalition groups on the bench," the letter said.
"It is an unfortunate situation when a judge aspires to an important position on this bench and gives up this ambition . . . only because the judge feels that he or she has no choice but to succumb to the pressure of a coalition -- pressure to elect a judge to represent the bench in an important capacity and who among the 25 of us, was on this bench less than five months before his election," Hammerman said.
Hammerman said a black judge solicited his support for Davis three weeks before the election. When Hammerman told the judge he would probably back Steinberg, Hammerman said, he was told Angeletti, Friedman and Steinberg were withdrawing.
Hammerman yesterday declined to discuss the letter. Steinberg also said no comment. Davis, through his secretary, said he was BTC too busy to talk. Angeletti and Friedman could not be reached.