Coalition seeks to postpone decision on Arnick Senate scheduled to vote tomorrow

February 15, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Another article yesterday incorrectly identified one of th organizations urging the state Senate to delay its vote on the confirmation of John S. Arnick as District Court judge. The correct name is the American Association of University Women.

The Sun regrets the errors

Four legislators and a coalition of legal activists and women's groups are asking that tomorrow's planned Senate vote on the confirmation of John S. Arnick's judgeship be delayed pending further investigation.

That message was delivered at a news conference in Annapolis yesterday, where Judith A. Wolfer accused Mr. Arnick of being "not entirely truthful" when he testified under oath Friday to the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Ms. Wolfer said that, contrary to his testimony, Mr. Arnick was aware last year of her reaction to lewd and racist language he allegedly used in a meeting with her.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Separately, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. stated his opposition to the confirmation of Mr. Arnick, a veteran former delegate and House Judiciary Committee chairman who was named to the Baltimore County District Court last month. Mr. Arnick was sworn to the bench Jan. 27 pending formal approval by the Senate.

It was a week ago that Ms. Wolfer, a 34-year-old attorney, testified to the Senate committee about a dinner meeting last February in which she said Mr. Arnick used vulgar and abusive language to describe women and victims of abuse. Her testimony changed what was expected to be a routine confirmation into a controversy that has dominated Annapolis ever since.

On Friday, Mr. Arnick answered those charges at the end of a second committee hearing that lasted four hours, saying he could not remember the particulars of his dinner with Ms. Wolfer and an aide to the governor, who were lobbying for a domestic violence bill. Mr. Arnick said in his testimony Friday that he meant no offense and would have apologized had he known the women were upset. After that hearing, the committee voted 14-4 to recommend confirmation.

The second woman at the dinner with Mr. Arnick, Nancy J. Nowak, now the state's head of parole and probation, issued a brief statement last week corroborating Ms. Wolfer's account. But her failure to appear before the committee to testify in person caused those at yesterday's news conference to ask if a key witness may have been intimidated.

"Is there a cover-up in the Senate?" asked Philip Lee of the Public Justice Center, a nonprofit legal group that has represented battered women. He read a statement endorsed by seven groups, including the Maryland chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women and the National Association of University Women.

"We call on the Senate of the State of Maryland to reopen the hearings," Mr. Lee said. "A dark cloud hangs over the appointment of John Arnick, over the confirmation process and over the state Senate."

State Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Montgomery County Republican, said that if Mr. Arnick's nomination comes before the full Senate as expected tomorrow, he will move that it be sent back to committee.

"I am also going to move that the Senate instruct the Executive Nominations Committee to issue subpoenas to anyone else who might be a material witness," he said.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday that he plans to go ahead with the vote tomorrow.

Contacted after the news conference, the Prince George's Democrat noted that Mr. Arnick had gone through a lengthy nominating process that included recommendation by a judicial selection committee in Baltimore County, appointment by the governor, and then two hearing sessions before the Senate panel last week.

Describing the second hearing as "unprecedented," Mr. Miller said, "This matter was taken very, very seriously. I'd say 90 percent of the entire Senate was at that second hearing. It went on for four hours. We heard from 50 witnesses. Anyone who wanted could get up and testify. There is no need for additional testimony.

"This needs to be put to rest," said Mr. Miller, who is a member of the Senate committee and voted in favor of Mr. Arnick's confirmation. "John Arnick has to be allowed to get on with his life, and the Senate needs to get on to dealing with the budget and other legislative matters."

Mr. Arnick could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Denis, a member of the nominations committee who voted against Mr. Arnick's confirmation, was joined yesterday in calling for a fuller investigation by two Democrats from Montgomery County, Sen. Mary Boergers and Del. Peter Franchot, and Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County.

Of the four, only Mr. Denis specifically called for a vote against Mr. Arnick's confirmation to the $82,380-a-year District Court position.

"There are only three interpretations that can be made of John Arnick's testimony that he cannot recall the particulars of the allegations against him," Mr. Denis said.

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