Aghast over Arnick

February 19, 1993

It never should have come to this. John S. Arnick never should have been put in a position in which he was publicly humiliated. His bid for a District Court judgeship never should have gotten off the ground. But the Schaefer administration fell down badly in the job. So did the state Senate. And the Judicial Nominating Commission.

No one apparently had looked into Mr. Arnick's background thoroughly enough to notice the former delegate's occasional denigration of women. No one scrutinized his candidacy for a judgeship carefully enough to realize his appointment would trigger a vociferous public dispute.

Instead, the nominating commission added Mr. Arnick's influential name to its list of recommended candidates; the governor and his aides, anxious to help House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, whisked the former majority leader's nomination through without looking at his shortcomings, and the Senate Executive Nominations Committee sought to reward a former colleague.

No wonder the public was aghast. The process by which judges are chosen and approved is woefully inadequate. Little time is spent determining if a nominee has the proper temperament and demeanor. In this case, the fact that Mr. Arnick was a big-league player in the State House was all the evidence most insiders needed.

That no longer is acceptable. The public outcry that led to Mr. Arnick's decision to withdraw his nomination should persuade the governor and legislators that a more open and more probing process is required before judges don their black robes.

Before names are submitted to the governor, the nominating commissions have to do a better job assessing its choices. Before the governor nominates judges he has to insist on an exhaustive check of their suitability. And before senators vote on a judge, they must see that their own staff has done a thorough job of digging up the pros and cons of the nominees -- and that the public gets a well-publicized chance to voice their own concerns.

Thanks to rapid changes in telecommunications, state legislators longer operate in cocoons isolated from the rest of the world. Rewarding loyal friends with judgeships isn't acceptable any longer. From now on, allegations of sexism or any kind of bias had better be taken seriously by legislators and the governor. Picking judges had better be handled more conscientiously. That's what the public is demanding. It won't accept less from its elected representatives in Annapolis.

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