Schaefer throws his weight behind Arnick confirmation

February 12, 1993|By John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky | John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers Staff writers Thomas Waldron and Michael Hill contributed to this article.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer abandoned all pretense of neutrality yesterday and strongly endorsed embattled District Judge John S. Arnick, saying the Senate should confirm the veteran Baltimore County delegate for a full 10-year term despite allegations he has belittled women in vulgar and offensive language.

Mr. Schaefer said he believed the allegations against Mr. Arnick are true and does not condone them, but said he was nevertheless "impressed" with Mr. Arnick's "attitudes toward the bar, attitudes toward people" and thought it "silly" that women might fear appearing before him in court.

As top gubernatorial aides, legislators from both houses and high-powered lobbyists tried to rally support for Mr. Arnick, the Senate itself appeared almost evenly divided on what should be done, according to an informal poll by The Sun of all but one of the 47 member of the Senate. Nineteen senators said they were undecided or refused to say how they intend to vote.

The 19-member Senate Executive Nominations Committee is to hold its second hearing this week on the Arnick nomination at noon today and vote afterward on whether to advise the full Senate to confirm him. The full Senate is tentatively scheduled to take up the matter on Tuesday.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, a longtime friend of Mr. Arnick's who encouraged the governor to appoint him to the bench, was on the phone with Mr. Arnick yesterday helping him prepare his defense. But Mr. Mitchell would not disclose what Mr. Arnick intends to say and said the judge had not decided as of last night whether to testify before the committee today, or simply to submit a written statement.

Mr. Arnick has not commented publicly since Judith A. Wolfer, a Takoma Park lawyer, told the Executive Nominations Committee Monday night that he had used profane and condescending terms to describe women during a dinner meeting a year ago with her and Nancy J. Nowak, an aide to Mr. Schaefer.

Although the women were lobbying the then-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to support a domestic violence bill, Ms. Wolfer said that Mr. Arnick used a vulgar and sexually explicit epithet to describe abused women and referred to them as liars. He also called women in general "lying bitches," she said.

Ms. Wolfer told the committee that the incident proved Mr. Arnick lacked appropriate judicial temperament and therefore was unfit to be a judge.

The controversy has overwhelmed the General Assembly all week, overshadowing budget fights and controversial disputes over scores of other pending legislation. It has frightened lawmakers unaccustomed to making difficult decisions that could affect not only the career of someone they know, but also their own political futures.

Many said they were angered that Ms. Wolfer came forward so late in the process, after Mr. Arnick had been recommended by a Judicial Nominating Commission, after he was appointed by Mr. Schaefer, after he had given up his seat in the House and his private law practice, and after he was sworn in and began sitting on the judicial bench in Towson.

Typical was Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, a Baltimore Democrat, who complained of "this 11th-hour stuff" and said: "It could have been done on the front end and saved everybody a lot of embarrassment."

Mr. Schaefer on Tuesday said the matter was out of his hands and up to the Senate to decide.

Yesterday, however, his appointments secretary, Robert A. Pascal, strolled the hallways outside the Senate, lobbying members on Mr. Arnick's behalf and advising the judge by telephone.

The governor himself warmly described Mr. Arnick, 59, as "impressive," saying his application interview was one of the best he had ever had with a prospective judge.

Mr. Schaefer said he "absolutely" believed Ms. Wolfer's story that Mr. Arnick had made sexist remarks and told racist and ethnic jokes, but said women would be "silly" if, based just on that, they were afraid to appear in Judge Arnick's court.

"I would say, 'You're silly, because you haven't even given him a chance. You've done the very thing lawyers are not supposed to do: condemn someone in advance,' " the governor said.

Many Annapolis regulars -- lawmakers, lobbyists and veteran staff -- sprang to Mr. Arnick's defense, saying they were angered and frustrated because they have known and worked with Mr. Arnick for years or even decades and believe the former two-time House majority leader is getting a raw deal. They described him as a man who has defended minorities and worked for a variety of women's rights bills.

"His deeds and his actions have been 100 percent inconsistent with the allegations against him," said Bruce C. Bereano, a high-paid lobbyist who added he was doing what he could to rally Senate support for the beleaguered judge.

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