Clerk race focuses on management CAMPAIGN 1994

September 04, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

An article in Sunday's Anne Arundel edition of The Sun incorrectly stated the party affiliation Rex S. Caldwell III, a candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court in the Anne Arundel County primary election. Mr. Caldwell is a Democrat.

The Sun regrets the error.

Janet Owens, a former Orphans' Court judge, says she has seen the problems of managing Anne Arundel County's courthouse. It's why she is one of six candidates for clerk of the Circuit Court.

A few years ago, an assistant court clerk failed to file correctly a decision in a case involving a contested will. The decision had been made, but no one knew because it could not be found.


"It was a clerical mistake," said Mrs. Owens, one of two Democrats in the race. "It sounds silly, but people were waiting for this decision. It was a mistake that could ultimately turn out to be very expensive."

That sort of thing wouldn't happen if she were managing the $3.3 million budget and 88 employees who are supposed to keep track of thousands of official files and documents, she said.

The management of the clerk's office, where more than 12,000 cases are filed annually and 150,000 deeds recorded, comes up frequently in conversations with the candidates.

Rex S. Caldwell III, an Annapolis lawyer and one of four Republicans seeking that party's nomination, said he got into the race because he was frustrated with the way the office has been run.

"For someone who has been in there every day, I've gotten discouraged with the level of enthusiasm I have seen in there," he said.

"I think I'm the only candidate who can say I have experience in every area of the courthouse. I have tried cases and researched records. I don't just have book knowledge of the problems that come up," he said.

Mr. Caldwell, 33, a former assistant state's attorney in Dorchester County, said he wants to make the office more responsive to the public and the lawyers who use it.

Robert Duckworth, the deputy clerk and another Republican seeking the top job, argues that there is little wrong with the way the clerk's office is being run.

Mr. Duckworth, 54, was hired by Mary M. Rose when she was elected clerk four years. Mrs. Rose is running for the state Senate, and Mr. Duckworth, of Davidsonville, hopes to replace her.

"I want to continue the Rose management performance," he said. "I want to make this the best courthouse in the state."

He said he and Mrs. Rose modernized an outdated system and put many of the records on a computer. If elected, he said, he wants to continue improving the computer system.

Mr. Duckworth conceded that it will be difficult to keep the courthouse atmosphere "friendly" during the next several years while the building is being renovated and expanded.

Republican candidate Carroll Myers, 62, of Linthicum said Mrs. Rose's run for the Senate and Mr. Duckworth's move to succeed her are symptomatic of problems in the courthouse.

"Politicians use it as a steppingstone," he said.

Mr. Myers said he hasn't used the courthouse often and doesn't know what needs to be improved. "I love organizing things. I get along with people," he said. "The basic job is to get them to deliver services."

James F. Salmon, 47, a computer specialist with the state Administrative Office of the Courts who is the fourth Republican running for the office, was among those who helped update the Anne Arundel clerk's computer system.

"I went there and installed the case management system that keeps track of everything," he said. "I got to know the system intimately."

Running the clerk's office is like being a data processor, he said. "It is being responsible for a computer and all the information in it. I like to view it as a maestro who taps his wand and everything works together."

He said he has 25 years of experience with computers and information organization and processing.

Democrat M. Kelly Bustard, 36, of Annapolis also knows something about the inner workings of the courthouse. He has worked for 14 years on child support collection cases.

"I have a strong working relationship with the state's attorney, sheriff's department and the public defender's office," he said. "My strong point is that I have a reputation of being very reasonable. I see the middle ground quickly."

He said he would be more of a "hands-on" clerk than Ms. Rose.

Mrs. Owens, 50, of Millersville said her former jobs as director of the county Department of Aging and executive director of the county Public Housing Authority, have given her the administrative experience to run the clerk's office.

"I loved being a judge," she said. "But I really missed the administrative work."

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