Williams won't drop judicial bid

June 21, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Alexander Williams Jr., whose nomination to Maryland's federal bench has been stalled for months over questions about his experience, says he has no intention of withdrawing, even if the American Bar Association rates him unqualified.

"I'm prepared right now to go all the way," he said. "I want that seat and I'm determined to get it."

Meanwhile, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in a letter to President Clinton, has accused the lawyers' group of trying to sabotage the nomination. And the NAACP is ready to escalate the controversy with pickets at ABA offices, an official for the civil rights group says.

Nominated by Sarbanes

Mr. Williams, a lawyer of 21 years who is completing his second term as Prince George's County state's attorney, was recommended for a U.S. District Court seat by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.

The ABA's evaluation committee, which rates federal judicial candidates as well-qualified, qualified or unqualified, raised concerns about Mr. Williams' experience, the senator said. Ten months after Mr. Williams' nomination, the committee has not released a rating for him, and its chairman has declined to discuss the review.

Mr. Williams has been waiting for a Senate vote longer than any other Clinton judicial nominee.

The delay has renewed allegations that Mr. Williams, who is black, is among many minority candidates who receive unfair consideration from the ABA because of their race or because of their lack of any connection to a "blue chip" law firm.

Supporters of Mr. Williams have suggested that the ABA has not released the rating because a negative evaluation would produce a storm of criticism.

"I'm not fighting the ABA; they serve a valuable role," said Mr. Williams, adding that he has been in weekly contact with Mr. Sarbanes. "If they feel I'm not qualified, then I would argue they've erred."

A spokesman for Mr. Sarbanes said yesterday that he was pressing the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing as soon as it can be scheduled.

The NAACP, in a letter to Mr. Clinton last week, accused the ABA of trying to damage the nomination. The Baltimore-based group said that such an effort, if successful, could hurt other black lawyers seeking to become federal judges.

The NAACP asked the president to go ahead with the nomination regardless of the ABA's rating. "The NAACP is totally perplexed as to how and why the ABA could justify the rumored rating of 'not qualified' that has been assigned to Mr. Williams," the letter said.

In separate letters to members of the ABA review committee, the Maryland State Conference of NAACP chapters warned that it is prepared to use "our well-tested NAACP tactics" in cooperation with other organizations to ensure that Mr. Williams is confirmed.

Pickets ready

The NAACP is poised to heat up the debate with pickets and demonstrations at ABA offices in Washington and Chicago, said Leroy W. Warren Jr., chairman of the National NAACP Crime and Criminal Justice Committee.

Robert P. Watkins, chairman of the ABA review committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Williams' career has been built on experience as a local litigator, public defender and county prosecutor. He has had little experience in federal courtrooms, but many others with limited federal experience have become judges.

He said an independent investigator, William J. Brennan III -- a New Jersey lawyer who is a former member of the ABA review committee -- was brought in by the lawyers' group to issue a separate evaluation and rated him favorably.

"He headed up a minority opinion," Mr. Williams said. "He told me directly that he felt I was qualified."

Mr. Brennan confirmed his role but declined to discuss it because of the ABA's policy of confidentiality during the review.

Mr. Williams said he would not rule out the possibility of running for a third term as state's attorney if his judicial nomination is not approved. The deadline for filing for that race is July 5.

"I believe I have to consider it, but that hasn't been my focus," he said. "I'll probably make a decision on the 5th, with careful consultation with the senator and the White House."

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