State House charade

February 10, 1993

Is former Del. John S. Arnick of Baltimore County unfit to serve as a District Court judge because of obscene and abusive comments he made to two women, as one witness alleged this week? Have similar incidents occurred? Without firm action in Annapolis, we may never find out. The approval process in the State House for judges and other appointees is so superficial that Mr. Arnick's appointment may never receive careful scrutiny.

That is unfair -- both to the public and to Mr. Arnick. The Senate's Executive Nominations Committee, which handles approval of the governor's appointments, is little more than a rubber-stamp. Committee members make no effort to investigate candidates who come before them. They are given only a simple resume, and their questioning is routinely polite and unoffensive. Only rarely do they refuse to approve a nomination.

The same holds true on the Senate floor, where legislators usually don't even take the time to look at the nominees' resumes. Consent is swift.

Given this charade, it is up to the governor to conduct detailed inquiries into his own nominees' backgrounds and character. Apparently, Gov. William Donald Schaefer did not do so for Mr. Arnick, a prominent committee chairman in the House of Delegates who was anxious for a judgeship. Though the governor's own judicial nominating panel had repeatedly rejected Mr. Arnick's earlier quests, the governor persisted -- as a political favor to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell.

Now the governor's office must be feeling intense embarrassment, and deservedly so. The testimony of a female lawyer this week has cast serious doubts on Mr. Arnick's judgment and impartiality. Even worse, one of the two women alleged to have been the target of Mr. Arnick's offensive broadside was an aide to Governor Schaefer. Why wasn't the governor informed of this incident before he nominated Mr. Arnick?

The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy should have taught all government officials a lesson in screening judicial nominees to ensure that they do not have allegations of sexism or racism or verbal abuse hanging over their heads. Apparently no one in Annapolis was listening -- or learning.

Mr. Arnick already is serving on the District Court on an interim basis until the Senate acts this session. We urge the Senate committee to conduct a thorough investigation and then hold a full hearing. That will allow other witnesses to come forward, and it will give Mr. Arnick a chance to present his side of the story. That's only fair. Just because the nominating process has been a charade in the past is no reason to continue that disgraceful practice. Senators owe the public -- especially women who may wind up in District Court in Baltimore County -- a lot more than that.

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