Three sitting judges are running unopposed in the March 3 primary election, but their election committee has already spent $8,290 for about a dozen billboards around the city -- and more billboards will appear as Election Day approaches.
The three Baltimore Circuit judges -- Andre M. Davis, Paul A. Smith and Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. -- are pictured on the blue and white billboards that are being paid for by the Committee to Retain Sitting Judges.
The judges were appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and must run in the first statewide election after their ascension to the bench to retain their judgeships. The lack of opposition in the primary has assured their election to 15-year terms on the bench.
H. Mark Stichel, chairman of the Committee to Retain Sitting Judges, said the billboards resulted from a commitment made with Penn Advertising before the Dec. 23 filing deadline. "At that time they weren't sure if they'd be opposed or what," said Mr. Stichel. "You can't go out and get billboards at the drop of a hat."
The judges run as non-partisan candidates so their names will appear on the Democratic and Republican slates.
Mr. Stichel also criticized the law that requires the judges to campaign. Judges should focus on judicial proceedings without having to wear a politician's hat, he said.
Fred Lauer, director of government affairs for Penn Advertising, said the firm's policy requires a contract 30 days before election billboards are posted. He said the monthly cost of a single billboard is $600, excluding production costs.
The sitting judges' billboards were posted in early February and will remain up until the primary election. More billboards will be displayed again one month before the general election, Mr. Stichel said, adding that the judges also will appear in advertisements in the Black Church Magazine.
The committee, formed last year, has held fund-raisers to cover the judges' campaign costs, including those for the billboards. But Mr. Stichel said the committee chose not to seek expensive broadcast advertisements, which don't have to be purchased that far in advance.
Although the funding of the judges' billboards may seem unnecessary, Mr. Stichel said there's a bonus.
"The judges are still running for election . . . and people know who they are and what they are doing," he said. "If anything, they [the billboards] may serve another purpose to let people know there is an election out there."
In October and November 1990, the governor appointed Judges Smith and Davis, respectively, to the Circuit Court. Judge McCurdy was appointed the next year.