In Baltimore, Howard and Kent counties, judges of the state's most important level of trial court, the Circuit Court, are having to run for election this year.
Why? Well, because they're there. It is certainly not because they are bad judges. They are all well-respected by their peers and the legal profession -- and even the would-be judges running against them acknowledge they have good records.
But in Maryland, these are the only judgeships lawyers can run for. The state constitution sensibly insulates the lower level -- District Court -- and upper levels -- Court of Special Appeals, Court of Appeals -- from election politics. District Court judges are appointed by the governor to 10-year terms and never stand for election. Court of Appeals judges and Court of Special Appeals judges are appointed to 10-year terms, then must run on their record without opposition in a retention election.
The theory is that judges need a set of skills and talents that run to the contemplative rather than to the political.
The ability to win votes and the ability to judge a case fairly and wisely are not the same thing. Having the latter is no guarantee of having the potential for the former.
Politicking also requires candidates -- even for judgeships -- to raise money and shake hands. Often it is lawyers who practice before the Circuit Courts that judicial candidates turn to. This creates an unfortunate appearance if not a reality.
Until this system is changed, the best way for the public to keep the bench aloof as usual from politics as usual is to support sitting judges.
In this year's case, that is easy, since the five judges running in Baltimore County -- Thomas J. Bollinger Sr., J. Norris Byrnes, Robert E. Cahill Sr., Edward A. DeWaters Jr. and Christian Kahl -- all deserve voters' support on their merits. So do J. Frederick Price in Kent County and Dennis M. Sweeney in Howard.