Probate judge will step down to run as Democrat for clerk of Circuit Court

June 17, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

A county probate judge said she will resign her post later this month to challenge the Republicans for control of the County Courthouse.

Judge Janet Owens, a Democrat, said she will step down from as a judge of the Orphans Court and announce her campaign for clerk of the Circuit Court on June 28.

She's considered an early favorite in the Democratic primary and could face Robert Duckworth, a deputy clerk and a Republican, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Judge Owens, 50, of Millersville is the granddaughter of a prominent South County politician, Owain Elliott Owens Sr., who served many years as the Orphans Court's presiding judge.

She followed him onto the bench, winning one of three judgeships in 1990.

She also is the former executive director of the Anne Arundel County Housing Authority and former director of the county Department of Aging.

Democratic officials hope those are the kinds of qualifications they can use to pry control of the courthouse away from the Republicans.

State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, said Clerk of the Court Mary Rose has used the courthouse to establish a Republican patronage system and launch future political campaigns.

Mrs. Rose, who won election in 1990, hired Mr. Duckworth, who has twice run for Congress, and Doug Arnold, who ran for House of Delegates in 1990, to serve in key positions.

Both men are running again on the strength of their courthouse experiences.

Mr. Duckworth said the courthouse was used politically before the Republicans took control in 1990.

"It was a place where the good old boys had a good old patronage system working and nothing was getting done," he said at a recent GOP rally in Shady Side.

Both clerk and a judgeship are elective posts. The Orphans Court rules in disputes over the division of estates among heirs and supervises guardianships over minor children. The clerk administers the courthouse.

Explaining her decision to run for clerk, Judge Owens said, "The one part of professional work that I found I missed [as a judge] was administration. . . . I miss budgets and those kinds of decisions you have to make as an administrator."

Judge Owens said she was advised by the state Judicial EthicCommittee that she would have to resign from the court to campaign for clerk.

Judge Owens said the decision has been difficult. Before makinup her mind, she said she discussed the two jobs with former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Holt, who had been a popular Republican clerk of the court in the 1960s.

"She said, 'You'll enjoy the work [as clerk] but you'll never make as important, as heart-wrenching decisions as you make right now in Orphans Court,' " said Judge Owens.

Though she could face two other Democrats -- M. Kelly Bustarof Annapolis and Maryellen O. Brady -- in the Sept. 13 primary, Judge Owens would be considered an early favorite.

A Davidsonville man, James F. Salmon, also has filed to place hiname on the GOP primary ballot.

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