The Arnick nomination

February 17, 1993

As things now stand, it is unlikely that former Del. John S. Arnick will return to the District Court bench in Baltimore County, where he began serving in January pending approval by the state Senate. Many legislators apparently had hoped that allegations of Mr. Arnick's offensive treatment of women would conveniently go away.

That didn't happen. Instead, legislators have been subjected to a public outcry similar to the kind that persuaded the Clinton administration that Zoe Baird should withdraw as the nominee for attorney general.

The fact that so many citizens made their feelings known should put the legislature on alert that Marylanders, like people elsewhere in the country, are tired of business as usual. Mr. Arnick's appointment to the bench was a case study in political expediency at the expense of good government.

After a long and often effective career in the House of Delegates, Mr. Arnick had fought one too many battle, and was seen by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell as a problem.

Mr. Mitchell thought the solution was a judgeship, and one was conveniently awarded by Gov. William Donald Schaefer despite the fact that prior screening panels had ranked Mr. Arnick as unqualified.

That judgment should have been enough to stop the nomination. In District Court, judges act as both judge and jury, making a judge's demeanor and personality especially important. These courts also handle the messy situations in which the word of a woman is often pitted against that of a man. Given the concerns raised about Mr. Arnick's behavior and attitudes, would any responsible lawyer agree to represent a woman in his court?

At 59, Mr. Arnick is much older than the usual District Court nominee. A 10-year term would bring him close to the judiciary's mandatory retirement age -- and make him eligible for a higher pension than he would receive as a legislator.

In trying to find a sinecure for a man who had become a problem for the House speaker, the governor misused the courts. They should not be a tool of political expediency. The governor needlessly put legislators in an awkward situation -- and also embarrassed Mr. Arnick, a man whose reputation was such that allegations about his behavior were hard to counteract.

Granted, Mr. Arnick has his weaknesses. But he also showed a great deal of skill as a legislator. If the governor wants to provide a face-saving solution to this awkward situation, there are places other than the courts where Mr. Arnick could make a solid contribution. Governor Schaefer should have taken that route in the first place.

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