Arnick wins the day, 14-4 Nomination recommended

full Senate votes next week THE ARNICK HEARINGS

February 13, 1993|By John W. Frece and Michael Hill | John W. Frece and Michael Hill,Staff Writers

Setting aside allegations that his lewd and sexist remarks make John S. Arnick unfit to be a judge, a state Senate committee voted 14-4 yesterday to recommend that the former delegate be confirmed for a full 10-year term on the Baltimore County District Court bench.

After a tense week and an extraordinary four-hour hearing, the Executive Nominations Committee concluded that one night's mistake should not ruin a man's long and successful career in public service.

The vote came after Mr. Arnick said he could not recall precisely what he had said during a dinner conversation a year ago with two female lobbyists. Both women have said he told racist and ethnic jokes and used profane and derogatory terms to describe women in general and spousal-abuse victims in particular.

"I remember the dinner, but I cannot remember verbatim what was discussed," Mr. Arnick testified under oath. "I know they misunderstood some of what I probably said. I wish I could remember all of the details. I honestly cannot."

As for the charges of bigotry, he said: "I often felt my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents from Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland and Germany would have been very proud of my legislative career. To read now about my alleged ethnic insensitivity really hurts, and it is not true."

Mr. Arnick was the 50th and final witness in a hearing to determine whether he should continue in the $82,300-a-year judicial post he assumed last month. The full Senate is expected to vote on his confirmation Tuesday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a member of the committee who voted for the appointment, said he expected full Senate confirmation, but it might be close.

"The Executive Nominations Committee is a microcosm of the full Senate," Mr. Miller said, adding, "It could be dicey, but I'm certain he'll get more than 24 votes [required for approval.]" An informal survey by The Sun Thursday indicated that at that time, nearly half of the Senate was undecided, and the remaining members were almost evenly split.

Yesterday, eight witnesses testified against him, two of them women who raised additional allegations of offensive behavior by Mr. Arnick.

The drama surrounding Mr. Arnick's confirmation began Monday when Takoma Park lawyer Judith A. Wolfer stepped forward to testify about a dinner meeting she and Nancy J. Nowak, then an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, had with Mr. Arnick during the legislative session last February.

The women were trying to persuade Mr. Arnick, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to pass a domestic-violence bill. During the dinner, Ms. Wolfer said, Mr. Arnick referred to women as "lying bitches" and used a sexual vulgarity to describe those who claim to be victims of spousal assault.

Ms. Wolfer was present at yesterday's hearing, but gave no further testimony. Ms. Nowak, now director of parole and probation for the state, had been expected to testify, but instead submitted a letter to the committee that briefly corroborated Ms. Wolfer's statements.

Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Montgomery County Republican, questioned whether Ms. Nowak might have been coerced not to testify by Governor Schaefer, an allegation denied by Mr. Schaefer's press secretary.

Mr. Arnick's statement, his first since Ms. Wolfer's bombshell, never denied her allegations. "You should know I generally play the devil's advocate during meetings with lobbyists," he said, "telling proponents what to expect from potential opponents, and verbalizing some of the comments that I am likely to hear from the other side of an issue."

But Ms. Wolfer said afterward, "There's no question in my mind that that was not the context of his remarks. I'm an attorney and I understand when someone is presenting an argument as a philosophical point of view. . . . He was talking about his personal feelings in a personal context."

Asked by Senator Denis whether he had ever used the language described by Ms. Wolfer, Mr. Arnick said, "Some of those words they said I used I have never ever used in direct reference to anybody in my life."

The confirmation hearing thrust senators into unaccustomed territory, sitting in judgment of an individual -- in this case, a friend of many of them.

Mr. Arnick entered the room accompanied by his friend and adviser, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, and House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole. During the hearing before a standing-room-only audience of about 200, the two men sat with Mr. Arnick in the front row, listening intently to testimony that often came from legislators or lobbyists who depend on these same legislative leaders to help them pass or kill bills.

Behind the 19-member committee, more than a dozen other senators and delegates sat or stood, watching the unusual proceedings. Robert A. Pascal, the governor's patronage chief who had lobbied for Mr. Arnick's confirmation all week, sat among them, chatting to members as the hearing progressed.

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