Allegations delay vote on Arnick Account of lewd remarks supported

woman tells of sexual advances

February 10, 1993|By Marina Sarris and Sandy Banisky | Marina Sarris and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers Staff writer Michael Hill contributed to this article.

Former Del. John S. Arnick's chances of being confirmed as a judge suffered two more setbacks yesterday as a state official supported allegations that Mr. Arnick made racist and lewd remarks at a 1992 dinner meeting and another woman said she would testify that he made unwanted sexual advances.

Nancy J. Nowak, a former aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer (( who now heads the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, said she was willing to appear before a Senate committee to confirm a lobbyist's account of Mr. Arnick's remarks at the dinner in Annapolis.

On Monday, attorney Judith A. Wolfer, a former lobbyist for the House of Ruth women's shelter, urged the panel to reject Mr. Arnick's appointment as a Baltimore County District Court judge, saying his conduct that evening showed he lacked judicial temperament.

In a terse written statement confirming that account, Ms. Nowak said:

"I corroborate Ms. Wolfer's statement and testimony regarding the event in question provided yesterday before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. I am confirming that the Senate committee has requested my testimony. I have advised the committee that I will cooperate fully in any manner deemed appropriate."

That committee slowed down its initial rush to decide Mr. Arnick's fate as angry Marylanders called radio talk shows and General Assembly offices. Sen. Michael J. Wagner, the Anne Arundel County Democrat who is the committee chairman, said yesterday that the panel would not vote today, as had been planned.

In other developments yesterday, the governor's chief lobbyist said he knew about Mr. Arnick's alleged conduct within days of the incident but that he did not tell the governor. And another woman called the committee to say she would like to testify against Mr. Arnick's nomination.

The woman, Judy Hanford, 45, alleges that Mr. Arnick made persistent verbal and physical advances to her in a Towson restaurant in December 1990.

Ms. Hanford said she knew him as the lawyer who had represented her ex-husband in their 1988 divorce. She also said she dated Mr. Arnick "two or three times" in 1969 or 1970 but that their relationship never became serious.

Ms. Hanford said Mr. Arnick's language and conduct in the restaurant so upset her that she called the office of House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. the next day. An aide advised her to make a formal complaint, Ms. Hanford said, but friends and family convinced her that doing so would serve no purpose.

Mr. Arnick, 59, a legislative veteran from Dundalk, was named to the court by the governor on Jan. 2. He resigned from the House of Delegates and was sworn in to the $82,300-a-year judicial job later last month.

For the second day in a row, Mr. Arnick -- who must be confirmed by the Senate to stay on the bench -- declined yesterday to comment on the charges.

Yesterday's debate in Annapolis did not call into question Ms. Wolfer's integrity or testimony. Legislators seemed to accept that the incident occurred as described. Instead, they asked whether it meant Mr. Arnick should not be a judge.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and a member of the Executive Nominations Committee, said, "The question I have for myself, which I haven't answered yet, is: Regardless of all that came before, once John Arnick puts on those robes and becomes Judge Arnick, can he be a fair and impartial judge?"

The allegations provoked a largely negative response from dozens of callers to radio talk shows and the General Assembly.

Mr. Schaefer showed no indication yesterday of wanting to withdraw Mr. Arnick's name. "I am going to wait for the deliberations of the committee," he said.

The governor said that when he appointed Mr. Arnick, he did not know about the alleged incident involving Ms. Nowak and Ms. Wolfer. "First of all, Judge Arnick was passed by the judicial nominating committee. I don't question people on, never have, on whether they have used language and sexually obnoxious, racially obnoxious terms."

Had he known about the allegations, Mr. Schaefer said, "certainly I would've listened and gone further to find out if anyone else was saying the same thing."

David S. Iannucci, Mr. Schaefer's chief lobbyist, said Ms. Wolfer told him about Mr. Arnick's alleged comments at the dinner a day or so after the event.

Ms. Wolfer and Ms. Nowak scheduled the dinner meeting with Mr. Arnick to talk to him about a domestic-violence bill the governor had introduced. Ms. Wolfer was lobbying for the bill in her role as legal clinic director of the House of Ruth, a Baltimore shelter for battered women. Mr. Arnick was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would vote on the measure.

Mr. Iannucci said he and Ms. Wolfer decided to focus attention on the bill, which would "save lives," rather than on the sexist remarks.

He said he knew the governor was considering making Mr. Arnick a judge this winter but that it did not occur to him to mention the incident. "It never presented itself in my mind," Mr. Iannucci said.

Ms. Wolfer said she told several legislators, male and female, about the incident days after it happened. "They were appalled, surprised, troubled," she said. "One of the members did speak to Mr. Arnick at the time."

That legislator, Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said he was upset by the allegation and informed Mr. Arnick of his conversation with the two women.

Mr. Montague said he did not tell Speaker Mitchell because he felt that was a decision for the women to make. "It was a question of whether I should substitute my judgment for theirs," he said.

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