Lawyer isn't sorry she spoke out over judicial nomination THE ARNICK HEARINGS


February 13, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

When it was all over, when a Maryland Senate committee had voted overwhelmingly to recommend the confirmation of John S. Arnick's nomination to a judgeship, Judith A. Wolfer still wasn't sorry she'd spoken out.

"I think I did the right thing," she said.

Until last Monday night, a judgeship for Mr. Arnick, a fast-talking Annapolis veteran, had seemed certain. But then Ms. Wolfer, a 34-year-old Takoma Park lawyer, appeared before a Senate panel and recounted a dinner meeting last year in which Mr. Arnick allegedly used lewd, racist and sexist language.

Suddenly, amid the resulting furor, Mr. Arnick's future was not a sure thing.

That was the first surprise for Ms. Wolfer. "I didn't expect anything to happen after my testimony," she said. "I thought they'd do nothing. I thought they'd thank me for my testimony and go ahead and vote to confirm him."

But the committee delayed action. New witnesses came forward. And the State House found itself at the center of a hot debate over sexism and politics. Callers tied up Senate phones and the lines to radio talk shows.

More than 200 calls came into Ms. Wolfer's law office. What surprised her was that all of them were congratulatory. "All supportive, and intensively supportive, which to me is very moving," she said.

Some observers have compared Ms. Wolfer with Anita Hill, the law professor who 18 months ago alleged during Supreme Court confirmation hearings that she was harassed by now-Justice Clarence Hill.

But there is a big difference: Polls showed much of the population didn't believe Ms. Hill. In Annapolis, no one seems to doubt Ms. Wolfer.

"Very credible," said Baltimore Sen. George W. Della of Ms. Wolfer, though he was leaning toward supporting Mr. Arnick when the full Senate votes next week. "Very believeable," said Baltimore County Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, another Arnick sympathizer.

Unlike Ms. Hill, Ms. Wolfer avoided becoming the issue. The issue remained what Ms. Wolfer outlined Monday night: Does Mr. Arnick have the temperament to be a judge?

All week, defenses and condemnations of Mr. Arnick, himself a former delegate, were tossed around the corridors of Annapolis.

Although Ms. Wolfer's testimony was not doubted, some questioned her motives. Thursday, a woman delegate referred to Ms. Wolfer in a published report as "that chick."

Ms. Wolfer laughed. "I don't think she knows me."

Later that day, the legislator, Baltimore County Del. Leslie Hutchinson, issued a statement of apology.

Last February, Ms. Wolfer was lobbying for a bill on domestic violence when she and another woman had dinner with Mr. Arnick, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In the course of that dinner, she said, Mr. Arnick called women "lying bitches," "bimbos" and more vulgar names.

She had told several people, including members of the governor's staff, about Mr. Arnick's alleged behavior last year but didn't file a formal complaint because a bill was at stake. "But I wouldn't have come forward a year ago even if there wasn't a bill. I have no personal ax to grind against Mr. Arnick. If he stayed in the legislature, I wouldn't have said anything.

"But I felt that if Mr. Arnick put those views into action on the bench, I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror."

This week, "some attorneys have called me to say it might be malpractice to represent female clients in front of him."

About two weeks ago, she began mentally to compose her testimony. Last Friday night, she began writing her 10-page statement. She showed it to her law partner and rehearsed it before her boyfriend, with whom she lives in Baltimore.

Some friends and colleagues tried to talk her out of it "because they felt I would be disbelieved, that I couldn't appear in some courtrooms and that my clients would suffer."

But Monday, she faxed the statement to the governor's office and went to Annapolis.

Yesterday, Ms. Wolfer was back, listening to more than four hours of testimony. Forty witnesses told the committee that Mr. Arnick will make a fine judge. Only eight witnesses questioned his appointment.

What if, after all this, the full Senate confirms him?

"Obviously, I would prefer if that didn't happen," Ms. Wolfer said. "But I think the benefit out of this is that we've discussed the issue of bias and prejudice on the bench.

"You couldn't listen to the calls I've gotten and think this was worthless."

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