Lawyers polled for choice for District Court judge

March 31, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A headline in Friday's Howard County edition of The Sun stated incorrectly that lawyers were offering opinions on who should fill a county District Court judgeship. The recommendations were for a county Circuit Court judgeship.

The Sun regrets the error.

A District Court judge and a public defender were the top vote-getters in a poll of local lawyers asked to recommend who should become Howard County's fifth Circuit Court judge, according to results released yesterday.

Howard District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin received the most "highly recommended" and "recommended" votes among 15 candidates for the new judgeship.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Other top vote-getters were Columbia attorney Neil E. Axel and Howard District Judge Louis Becker.

A total of 177 county lawyers voted in Wednesday night's poll, sponsored by the Howard County Bar Association. The rankings will be sent to the state Judicial Nominating Commission, which will make a recommendation to the governor on who should be the county's next judge.

"They're very able, bright, experienced people," said Thomas Lloyd, an Ellicott City lawyer who is chairman of the bar association's judicial selection committee, which interviewed the candidates. "The people of the county will be well served by any of these candidates."

The top vote-getters said the poll results are gratifying, since they show that they are well respected by their peers.

But they acknowledged that they are uncertain whether the results will have any bearing with the state officials. "I assume it is a factor," Judge Gelfman said. "I don't know how big a factor."

Members of the state Judicial Nominating Commission have said that, while the lawyers' assessments are important, a judicial candidate's performance in interviews is often the key factor in making their recommendations.

In the poll, the lawyers were asked to say which judicial candidates were "highly recommended," "recommended" or "not recommended." They also were asked if they knew about each candidates' qualifications.

In the bar association's review, each candidate was interviewed by the group's 15-member judicial selection committee, which then reported its findings to all association membersbefore the poll.

The state commission will interview each applicant and provide Gov. Parris N. Glendening with its list of the most qualified candidates by April 12.

Mr. Glendening then will interview the candidates favored by the commission and select one of them or request a new list of candidates if he is not satisfied with the choices. There is no deadline.

The fifth circuit judgeship was established to keep up with Howard's growing number of civil and criminal cases, which has more than doubled since 1981, the year the county got its fourth judge.

The position is one of two judgeships to be filled in Circuit Court this year. The second appointment will be to replace Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr., who is retiring in May.

Circuit Court judges handle extensive civil lawsuits, felony criminal cases, divorces, custody disputes and child-support cases, among other types of litigation.

Judge Gelfman, who has been on the District Court bench for 5 1/2 years, received 93 "highly recommended" votes -- more than any other candidate.

A Columbia resident, Judge Gelfman also received 59 "recommended" votes and 22 "not recommended" votes. Three lawyers said they did not know of Judge Gelfman's qualifications.

After Judge Gelfman, Mr. Willemin received the most favorable rating -- 67 "highly recommended" and 81 "recommended" votes.

A public defender for 17 years, the resident of Columbia's Hickory Ridge village received nine "not recommended" votes. Twenty lawyers said they didn't know about Mr. Willemin's qualifications.

Mr. Axel was ranked third, with 72 "highly recommended," 48 "recommended" and 14 "not recommended" votes. His qualifications were unknown to 43 of the lawyers who cast ballots.

Judge Becker was closely behind Mr. Axel, with 47 "highly recommended," 69 "recommended" and 46 "not recommended" votes. Fifteen lawyers said they didn't know about his qualifications.

The poll results for the other candidates are:

* Bernard A. Raum of Columbia: 33 "highly recommended," 64 "recommended" and 58 "not recommended" votes. Twenty-two lawyers said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

* Linda Sorg Ostovitz of Ellicott City: 34 "highly recommended," 61 "recommended" and 35 "not recommended" votes. Her qualifications were unknown to 47 lawyers.

* Gary E. Bair of Ellicott City: 20 "highly recommended," 39 "recommended" and 39 "not recommended" votes. Seventy-nine lawyers said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

* Robert N. Keehner of Columbia: four "highly recommended," 49 "recommended" and 52 "not recommended" votes. Seventy-two lawyers said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

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