Arnick: 'This Whole Process Has Really diminished All of Us.'

February 21, 1993|By PATRICIA R. SHER

On the matter of John S. Arnick that has shaken Annapolis and state government, I can provide only my personal judgment unswayed by newspaper editorials and floods of phone calls, most of them shrill and often nasty.

We must have the courage to judge by our own experience and our own beliefs and not to bend before any wind of hysteria, no matter how fashionable it may be for the moment.

Let me say that I have worked with John Arnick for some 10 to 15 years in the General Assembly. I have never seen him do anything like the behavior his accusers charged him with.

I have never seen anything to show him either a racist or a sexist.

Like many others, I have considered him to be a friend over many years. My knowledge of John, my dealings with John cannot change because of what he is supposed to have said on one evening a year ago.

Let us not forget John Arnick's history and performance over so many years. He has an excellent record on women's rights -- at a time when it was not the popular or politically correct position.

He was the floor manager on the first abortion rights bill offered by Gov. Marvin Mandel to reach the floor of the House of Delegates. It was a tough job and a hard one, but he got enough votes to pass it. In the end, he himself voted against it because of his conservative district.

John Arnick championed the Equal Rights Amendment.

Well, some have asked me, "What about Sen. Bob Packwood? Didn't he favor women's rights as well?"

Let me tell you, John Arnick didn't go around patting women on their backsides or kissing them. In fact, I was more apt to put my arm around John's waist than he was to put his arm around mine.

From what I know about John, when he made the comments at which some took offense, he may have been projecting the views of committee members or lawyers as his own views. I think that's what he was trying to do. I have heard him do that many times.

But let us agree on one thing. I believe this whole process has really diminished all of us. Forget about the allegations for a moment.

Think what John, or any other person, has to go through in this cockeyed process. He is approved by the Judicial Nominating Commission. He is appointed by the governor. He is endorsed by the Women's Caucus and other influential groups. He sells his law practice and resigns from his legislative seat. He is sworn in and sits as a judge. And then -- and only then -- does he have to be confirmed. This whole thing is nonsensical. It is absolutely unfair to anyone.

The process has created the political circus we have seen the past two weeks. We have to change that process as soon as possible.

The only similar case I know about was that of Alger Barbee in the 1960s. He was appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Millard Tawes. After his appointment but before his confirmation, he was arrested for drunken driving. His nomination was withdrawn by the governor. In those days, there was no Judicial Nominating Commission.

The other thing that bothers me is that on the basis of an accusation -- without thorough and proper investigation -- a man's life is ruined. That touches on McCarthyism.

It reminds me of the case of Abe Chasanow, the father of Judge Howard S. Chananow. Abe Chasanow was accused of being a Communist. He lost his job. He was black-listed. It wasn't until many years later that his case received a full hearing -- and he won.

It makes you think how fragile anyone's life really is. John Arnick was tried by the press before he or anyone else had a chance to respond. It was "like a lynching," some senators said at his hearing. The lynching mentality certainly exists.

Remember, John Arnick testified under oath. None of the other witnesses did. I'm not implying they weren't telling the truth. But there certainly could be a difference.

Now, even though he has asked that his nomination for the

bench be withdrawn, I hope that John will eventually respond to all the charges against him to clear the air.

I have had about 100 phone calls on this. Most have been pretty vicious. But I don't decide on a road project, say, on the basis of a dozen phone calls. And I won't decide on the basis of phone calls on a person's life. People elected me to be a little thoughtful about these things.

We must guard against slipping so easily into bias. I haven't seen much that was more biased than the Sun editorial Tuesday that said "female legislators" rushed to John Arnick's defense "to curry favor with the male leadership" in the General Assembly.

That is the same sort of bias displayed by those who say "some of my best friends are Jews" or "all blacks have rhythm." Doesn't The Sun believe that we woman legislators have minds of our own, that we can think and act for ourselves without instructions from the leadership?

I am annoyed that some members of the Executive Nominations Committee had information they could have presented to the committee or asked Mr. Arnick about. Instead, they waited for a press conference later and then suggested he be charged with perjury. That's unforgiveable.

I should add that sexism -- certainly through language and

remarks -- is rampant in Annapolis. I have heard women talk about "cute guys with tight butts" and men say things far worse than that. It hasn't disqualified any of them from serving as legislators or lobbyists -- or journalists. Not yet.

How do we judge someone's character, temperament and very life? By the hard-won deeds of years and years or by a single moment, however indiscreet, on one lone evening?

/# I know I get it. Do you get it?

Patricia Sher, a Democrat, represents District 18, from Montgomery County, in the state Senate.

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