Lessons from Arnick's withdrawal

February 22, 1993

In the aftermath of John S. Arnick's decision last week to withdraw his name from consideration as a District Court judge, legislators and citizens ought to ponder Mr. Arnick's observation that "fundamental fairness demands a better process." While Mr. Arnick must bear the major share of the responsibility for his inability to win Senate approval, he was ill-served by both the executive and legislative systems set up to select and approve judicial appointments.

Mr. Arnick's talents as a legislator were never in question. The central issue always rested on allegations of improper verbal abuse of women lobbyists and an underlying theme of sexism by the former Dundalk delegate. Yet this did not surface until the final moments of Mr. Arnick's initial Senate hearing. These allegations should have come to light way before then.

The Baltimore County Judicial Nominating Commission did its job poorly in not scrutinizing candidates more closely to ascertain if Mr. Arnick and others had exhibited the kind of bias that would interfere with their work as a judge. Gov. William Donald Schaefer's own appointments office was equally guilty of not investigating Mr. Arnick's background more thoroughly: it was enough for the governor that Mr. Arnick was a powerful member of the House of Delegates.

At least two members of the governor's staff were aware of the allegations but never brought up the matter with the appointments office or with the governor himself. They failed the governor badly. Had these charges been aired before the selection, this embarrassment could have been avoided.

The legislature's inept handling of the issue compounded the problem. No investigation into Mr. Arnick's qualifications or background took place. The Senate Executive Nominations Committee was ready to whisk the appointment through. So was the full Senate -- even immediately after the damning allegations of sexism were made public.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has introduced a bill to stop the practice of judicial nominees serving on the bench before their appointments are approved by the Senate. That is a sensible step, but a small one. Far more important is revamping the Senate's review of gubernatorial appointments, especially for judgeships. A window-dressing hearing is not sufficient. In-depth inquiries into a potential judge's fairness and temperament are crucial.

Had the nominating commission, the governor's staff and the Senate committee done their jobs properly, Mr. Arnick would have avoided what he has called a "media feeding frenzy." And the public's interest would have been far better served.

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