Dixon wants Md. judges to be elected, not appointed

February 18, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll Del. Richard N. Dixon has proposed for the second straight year that all Maryland judges be elected, not appointed.

"Recently, I heard a judge mention that he or she had no boss," the District 5A Democrat told the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing yesterday.

That is not right, he said, because the voters "are over all" government officials.

Mr. Dixon has submitted legislation that would require district, circuit and appellate judges to be elected for six-year terms.

Such a change would require three constitutional amendments, and legislative leaders told him last year that he would have to reintroduce the bills in an election year.

If the measures pass the General Assembly, they will be submitted to the voters in November elections. One amendment would apply to District Court judges, one to Circuit Court judges, and one to judges on the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals.

If approved by voters, the amendments would take effect Jan. 1, 1996.

Albert Winchester of the Maryland State Bar Association testified against the bills.

Elections would bring too much politics into the judicial process, he said.

Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, agreed.

Many judicial candidates are "totally unknown" to voters, he said.

"Ballot position can be everything," Judge Murphy said.

In an election, "flair or charm" would be more important than whether the candidate knew the law, he said.

The governor appoints Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals judges, who run 10 years later on a yes/no ballot with no opposition.

The governor also appoints Circuit Court judges, who then run for a 15-year term in an election at least one year after the vacancy the candidate was appointed to fill.

District Court judges are appointed by the governor to 10-year terms and do not stand for election.

Mr. Dixon made one change in his bills this year. Last year, he proposed that judges serve eight-year terms.

This year, "I thought four years would be too short, eight years too long," he said.

Judges were elected in Maryland until the late 1960s, Mr. Dixon said.

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