Selection of judges revamped

April 29, 1995|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writer

Seeking to cloak more women and minorities in judicial robes, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday overhauled the commissions that recommend candidates for Maryland judgeships.

The governor's order gives him more power in appointing members of the commissions that choose pools of candidates for state judgeships at every level -- from district court to the Court of Appeals. In effect, all 210 commission members could be replaced.

The order was prompted, in part, by two highly publicized incidents in which white, male circuit judges in Baltimore County were accused of being insensitive to women after they gave light sentences to a rapist and a man who killed his wife.

"I have confidence in the judges on the bench, but we can adjust to the times," he said at a news conference in Baltimore.

Of the 240 Maryland judges, 36 are women and 29 are African-American. No Hispanics or Asian-Americans are Maryland judges.

In an attempt to eliminate the "old boy" network of judicial candidates, the governor's order requires Judicial Nominating Commissions "to be sensitive to gender and diversity issues" of race and ethnic origin that reflect Maryland's population. The order also requires the commissions to evaluate judicial candidates for their sensitivity to a range of legal issues, including domestic disputes. Mr. Glendening based his changes recommendations from a task force of women, and African-Americans and other minorities.

Fifteen commissions, with 13 members each, choose judicial candidates for the trial courts, and one 15-member panel is assigned to the appeals courts. Mr. Glendening will increase the number of trial court commissions to 16.

Currently, the governor appoints seven people to the 13-member commissions; the rest are elected by local bar groups. Of the 96 lawyers on the commissions, only one is African-American and 18 are women.

Under the new order, the governor will name nine members to each commission; the rest will be chosen by local bar groups.

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he finds no fault with the governor's efforts to make the commissions reflect the makeup of their communities. But, he said, nominees still must be qualified to be judges.

"I don't care if he stacks the thing as long as they pick the person who is best qualified for the job," Mr. Vallario said. He was not concerned that Mr. Glendening might use the opportunity to put his own people on the bench -- in fact, he said he would be surprised if the governor did not.

"That's what every governor does and that's his prerogative," he said.

Lawyer Eleanor M. Carey, who chaired the governor's task force, said the search for good judges shouldn't be expanded based only on gender and race. "We're talking about experience in public law, trial law, family law, domestic disputes, not just corporate law."

After the news conference, she noted that changes in the system were prompted, in part, by the prominent Baltimore County cases.

One judge, Thomas J. Bollinger, was reprimanded by the state's judicial disciplinary panel last year after he gave a 44-year-old theater manager probation before judgment for raping an 18-year-old employee who had passed out on his bed. At sentencing in 1993, Judge Bollinger said the situation was "the dream of a lot of males."

The light sentence and his comments prompted protests outside the Towson courthouse.

In the other case, 30 female legislators called for the ouster of Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. after he sentenced a man to 18 months in a work-release program for killing his wife after he found her in bed with another man.

In passing sentence, Judge Cahill said, "I seriously wonder how many married men -- married five, four years -- would have the strength to walk away without inflicting some corporal punishment."

Mr. Glendening said there are 15 judicial vacancies throughout Maryland. During the next few years, he added, many other judges are due to retire.

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