Arnick affair blinds Senate to vital lesson

DAN RODRICKS

February 16, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

John Arnick's statement last week to the Senate Executive Nominations Committee was brandy on the flambe of imagination. I imagine him presiding in the District Court of Maryland. Before him stands a man named Smith, accused of being drunk -- "Listing to starboard from too much port," as a public defender in Baltimore's Southern District once put it -- and resisting arrest.

Cop: And then Mr. Smith used profane language to describe me and all police officers in general.

Arnick: What did he say?

Cop: He said all cops were lying bastards.

Arnick: Did you say that, Mr. Smith?

Smith: What's the big deal, your honor? Aren't you the guy who described women as lying bitches? Didn't you use a sexual vulgarity to describe women who get beat up by their husbands?

Arnick: I don't remember saying that. I don't deny it, either. But never mind. Answer the question. Did you say what the officer said?

Smith: I really don't remember, your honor. I remember being stopped by the officer, but I cannot remember verbatim what was discussed. You should know, Judge Arnick, that sometimes I play the devil's advocate when I get arrested, so that cops know what to expect from the real foul-mouthed villains out there.

Arnick: Officer, was Mr. Smith playing devil's advocate with you?

Public defender: Objection. Calls for speculation.

Arnick: Overruled. You may answer, officer.

Cop: No, your honor, I think I know the difference.

Smith: Much of what I said may have been misunderstood, your honor. But if any of my words were perceived as crude or offensive, then I am genuinely sorry.

Arnick: Oh, you're sorry, huh? Well, I believe the officer. (Gavel) Thirty days in the detention center!

OK, so it's not funny. John Arnick, barring rejection by the full Maryland Senate, shall continue to be a judge of the District Court.

I'll tell you what's funny. Clayton Mitchell, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, erstwhile brown suit, warrior for the status quo and pal of John Arnick, entertains thoughts of being governor.

Here's another hoot. Mike Miller, president of the Maryland Senate, the man who once called Baltimore a "goddamn ghetto," and another blind defender of John Arnick, entertains the same ambitions.

Both Mitchell and Miller would like to replace Donald The Lame Duck. They probably think "this Arnick thing" will be forgotten by 1994.

I've a hunch they're wrong.

When was the last time a local issue aroused as much interest and outrage? You'd have to go back to the 1988 election and the handgun referendum to find something that consumed as much daily conversation and provoked as much outrage.

In 1988, the outrage was aimed at the National Rifle Association, which came into Maryland and poured $6 million into the campaign in an attempt to kill the referendum. In 1993, the outrage is directed at the spineless members of the Maryland Senate who have forgiven John Arnick's obscene and angry outburst at women and confirmed him as a judge of the District Court for Baltimore County.

And in 1994, I'm betting that a vote to confirm Arnick will be held against every member of the Senate who seeks re-election and every member of the House of Delegates who stands by this guy. Arnick has had no bigger supporter than Clay Mitchell, playing John Danforth to Arnick's Clarence Thomas. In the Senate, we have Miller, a good old b'hoy, king of wheeler-dealers, who arrogantly asserts that the Arnick issue is finished and that there is more important business facing the General Assembly.

He doesn't get it, either. As a test of public attitude toward government officials, there might be no more important episode than this one. The Senate, in particular, is missing a lesson: People are fed up with politics-as-usual. The 270,000 Marylanders who voted for Bill Clinton and the promise of change, the people who rallied behind H. Ross Perot, the people who flood Congress with calls when they are upset about something -- these are the same people who are gagging over the Arnick judgeship and the way the Senate has handled it. They don't find it funny. And they aren't going to forget.

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