Arnick used racist, sexist language, panel is told

February 09, 1993|By Marina Sarris and Tom Bowman | Marina Sarris and Tom Bowman,Staff Writers

John S. Arnick, a new District Court judge in Baltimore County, told racist jokes and used derogatory and vulgar language to refer to women during a meeting when he was chairman of a state legislative committee, a woman lawyer testified last night.

Judy A. Wolfer, 34, of Takoma Park said the former state delegate is unfit to be a judge and urged the Senate Executive Nominations Committee to reject his recent appointment to the bench.

Ms. Wolfer said a "loud and angry" Mr. Arnick referred to her and a female colleague as "you bitches" and "you bimbos" during a February 1992 dinner meeting at an Annapolis restaurant. The women scheduled the meeting to lobby Mr. Arnick on a domestic violence bill that would be voted on by the House Judiciary Committee, which he chaired.

She said he used a vulgar slang term for a woman's vagina to describe women who claim they have been beaten by men.

"He expressed his views in vulgar and derogatory terms and consistently referred to women as a group as bitches," Ms. Wolfer told the hushed Senate panel.

Before the dinner began, she said, Mr. Arnick "told racist jokes with Poles, Jews and African-Americans as the object of the jokes."

"Given the culturally diverse communities of Baltimore County, these attitudes cannot stand and they cannot be tolerated on the bench," she said.

Mr. Arnick declined to comment on Ms. Wolfer's charges when asked by committee members and later by reporters. He stood, arms folded, and watched impassively as she testified in calm, measured tones.

The governor announced his intention to name Mr. Arnick to a judgeship in early January. Mr. Arnick, a 59-year-old Democrat from Dundalk, resigned from the Maryland House of Delegates and was sworn in to the $82,300-a-year judicial job later last month.

The Executive Nominations Committee, which usually votes immediately after a hearing, delayed its vote on whether to approve Mr. Arnick's appointment.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who is a member of the committee, missed last night's meeting. After conferring with the committee chairman later, however, Mr. Miller said he expected the panel to vote on the appointment within two days (( and said he expected Mr. Arnick would be confirmed.

He said many other legislators have known Mr. Arnick for years and would probably vote for him based on that long experience, rather than on one day's testimony.

"It's not as if we're voting on some judge from Alabama or Mississippi that people don't know," Senator Miller said.

Sen. Michael J. Wagner, who chairs the nominations committee, said Ms. Wolfer's testimony alone probably would not be enough to derail Mr. Arnick's appointment. "I would say he would have the votes unless an avalanche of people come forward to add to what Mrs. Wolfer said," he said.

But Sen. Howard A. Denis, another committee member, said he believed the charges, if true, would disqualify Mr. Arnick.

Many of Mr. Arnick's former colleagues in the General Assembly, including women and black legislators and members of the nominations committee, gave glowing testimonials about Mr. Arnick before and after Ms. Wolfer spoke.

Several legislators credited Mr. Arnick for the passage of the domestic violence bill.

"I come to you tonight as a woman, a legislator and a person who really knows John Arnick," said Sen. Nancy Murphy, D-Baltimore County. "I really regret that the opponent who spoke before me really doesn't know John Arnick. His credentials are impeccable."

Ms. Wolfer said she knew Mr. Arnick on a professional basis only. She sought the meeting with him last year to discuss a bill expanding the rights of victims of domestic violence. At that time, she served as the legal clinic director at the House of Ruth, a Baltimore shelter for battered women and children.

After Mr. Arnick missed two meetings in his office, she said, she and a female member of the governor's staff agreed to discuss the bill with him over dinner, at his suggestion. Gov. William Donald Schaefer had introduced the bill.

Ms. Wolfer declined to identify the governor's aide in her testimony last night. Sources, however, identified her as Nancy Nowak, who at the time was the governor's adviser on criminal justice issues. Ms. Nowak could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Wolfer testified that she told House of Ruth Director Carole Alexander, her law partner Janet Vecchia, and the person she lives with, Tim Heintzman, about the incident immediately after leaving the restaurant. They came to the hearing with her last night.

She said she also informed several legislators of the incident within days.

Ms. Wolfer said Mr. Arnick did not appear to be drunk at the time. She said she waited a year to make her allegations public because she wanted the bill to pass and she did not know that he would become a judge.

Governor Schaefer was not aware of the allegations until he was informed late last week of the testimony that was to be given, Page W. Boinest, his press secretary, said.

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