Senate delays vote on Arnick judgeship Public jams Senate telephone lines to voice outrage, question process

February 16, 1993|By John W. Frece and Michael Hill | John W. Frece and Michael Hill,Staff Writers Staff writers Tom Bowman, Marina Sarris and Sandy Banisky contributed to this article.

With public sentiment running against John S. Arnick and his legislative support eroding rapidly, the state Senate last night postponed its vote on whether the former delegate should remain a Baltimore County district judge.

Mr. Arnick requested the postponement in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., saying, "I have nothing to fear from further investigation and welcome a vigorous independent inquiry from the Senate committee."

Sen. Michael J. Wagner, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said the panel would hold a third hearing on the nomination, probably later this week.

"I think he knows that for him to have any chance of confirmation, we have to have further hearings," Mr. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel, said. "The public outcry is for more investigation, and that is what we're going to do."

Even before those developments, it became increasingly clear yesterday that the Arnick nomination is in jeopardy.

After a week in which in most legislators initially seemed to circle the wagons to protect one of their own, public reaction to Mr. Arnick's appointment -- and to the Senate's confirmation process itself -- seemed to hit hard in Annapolis.

Telephone lines to the State House complex lighted up with thousands of calls throughout the day, and senators reported nonstop calls to their homes over the weekend, almost all of them questioning Mr. Arnick's fitness to be a judge or complaining about the Senate's handling of the confirmation process.

At least five senators who were in Mr. Arnick's camp as recently as Friday said yesterday they were now opposing the nomination. All 10 women in the 47-member Senate were either against the nomination or wanted it investigated more thoroughly.

In his letter to the Senate, Mr. Arnick asked that a vote on his confirmation -- which had been scheduled for today -- be postponed until all witnesses who want to testify can be heard and all allegations against him can be aired and a reply made. Mr. Arnick has been accused of using language and displaying behavior offensive to women.

Senate President Miller said Mr. Arnick's request for further investigation "doesn't mean [his confirmation] is dead. It means it's sinking rapidly." Mr. Miller, D-Prince George's, has been among Mr. Arnick's staunchest supporters.

Mr. Arnick was appointed early last month by the governor and was sworn to the bench Jan. 27, pending confirmation by the Senate.

If the Senate should reject the 59-year-old Dundalk lawyer for a full 10-year term in the $82,300-a-year job, he would become the first District Court judge to fail to win Senate confirmation in Maryland since 1968.

The questions

What was expected to be a rubber-stamp confirmation ran into trouble a week ago when Judith A. Wolfer, a Takoma Park lawyer, charged that Mr. Arnick made vulgar and demeaning remarks to her and Nancy J. Nowak, then an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, during a dinner meeting a year ago. Among other statements, she said Mr. Arnick referred to women as "lying bitches."

The two women were lobbying Mr. Arnick, then the House Judiciary Committee chairman, on behalf of domestic violence legislation.

Even though Ms. Nowak subsequently corroborated -- in a written statement -- Ms. Wolfer's account, the Executive Nominations Committee voted 14-4 Friday to recommend that Mr. Arnick be confirmed by the full Senate.

Since then, however, questions have arisen about:

* Why Ms. Nowak failed to appear in person at the Friday hearing and whether she may have been discouraged from doing so by members of the Senate or their aides.

The Sun reported Sunday that Ms. Nowak, now director of parole and probation for the state, had been prepared to tell the Senate that Mr. Arnick frequently referred to her as a "blond bimbo" or as a "dumb blond" in front of other lawmakers.

She also had been prepared to testify that Mr. Arnick would engage in occasional and unwelcome rubbing of her neck when she approached him to discuss pending legislation involving domestic violence, The Sun reported.

Last night, before the Senate went into session, Ms. Nowak met with several senators at the office of Senator Wagner, the nominations committee chairman.

"I told the senators the truth," she said after the meeting, refusing to elaborate. "They seemed very interested in what I had to say."

She did say that if there are further hearings, she would be willing to testify.

"I was always willing to cooperate in any way," she said. "It was just not clear to me what the committee wanted me to do."

* Whether Mr. Arnick was truthful in his testimony under oath that he could not recall precisely what was said during the dinner in question, and that he never realized after the incident that anything he had said had troubled Ms. Wolfer or Ms. Nowak.

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