A Howard County councilman and two black groups want Gov. Parris N. Glendening to reject a list of candidates for a Circuit Court judgeship, saying the six white finalists don't reflect the county's racial diversity.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, along with the African American Coalition and the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said at least one of three black attorneys who applied for the new judgeship should have been among the finalists.
Governor Glendening's spokeswoman, Dianna Rosborough, said Friday that the governor hasn't decided whether he will pick the county's new judge from the list of finalists or start the selection process over again.
"He knows there are significant concerns and he will weigh those concerns," said Ms. Rosborough, who added that it may be several months before the new judge is named.
Mr. Gray and the black groups say the newly created fifth Howard Circuit judgeship provides an opportunity to bring minorities into the county's judicial system.
Howard County, with a 12 percent black population, has four circuit and four district judges. The seven men and one woman who sit as judges all are white.
"I think it's important to have a range of judges . . . to reflect the demographic make-up of the community," said Mr. Gray, an East Columbia Democrat.
"We're not asking for favors to put someone unqualified on the bench," said the Rev. Robert Turner, chairman of the African American Coalition. "We feel that all three are qualified."
The coalition, which represents 50 county organizations, and the Howard chapter of the NAACP sent letters to Mr. Glendening late last month, urging him to reopen the selection process.
The move by Mr. Gray and the groups comes after members of the county's legal community praised the list of finalists, citing the group's experience and diverse backgrounds.
Mr. Glendening hasn't interviewed any of the finalists recommended April 12 for the judgeship by the state Judicial Nominating Commission.
Maryland governors are free to reject lists of finalists for judgeships. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer did so twice when he believed there were not qualified candidates for a Howard position that eventually went to Circuit Judge James Dudley in 1989.
Mr. Glendening, in an effort to eliminate the "old boy" network of judicial candidates, issued a policy in April that requires judicial nominating commissions "to be sensitive to gender and diversity issues" of race and ethnic origin.
But that policy was issued after Mr. Glendening opted to let a judicial nominating commission already set up by Mr. Schaefer decide on Howard's fifth judge -- a commission that was not bound by Mr. Glendening's directive on bringing more women and minorities into judgeships.
Mr. Glendening went with Mr. Schaefer's commission to quicken the selection process and avoid a court backlog as a result of another judicial opening with Howard Circuit Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr.'s retirement earlier this month. To pick Judge Sybert's replacement, the governor will use a new commission and his new policy.
Mr. Gray, a member of the governor's committee that helped establish the policy, said he advised Mr. Glendening to pick both judges with the new procedures.
Fifteen county lawyers applied this spring to become Howard Circuit Court's fifth judge, who will serve a 15-year term.
As part of the selection process, the county Bar Association sponsors a referendum of its members to recommend candidates.
The three black applicants -- JoAnn Woodson Branche, Jo M. Glasco and Donna Hill Staton -- all performed poorly in the referendum, placing in the bottom half.
The referendum's results were provided to the state nominating commission, a 13-member group that interviewed all applicants and sent a list of candidates to Governor Glendening.
The commission, with two black members, has since been disbanded by Mr. Glendening.
The governor is expected to name a new commission under his new policy during the next several months.
Mr. Gray criticized the selection process, calling the bar association's referendum a "popularity poll." He noted that many of the 177 lawyers who participated in the poll did not know the three black candidates.
He also questioned the commission's results, noting that five of the six finalists already hold positions in the legal community. "It was an institutional result," he said.
Two finalists -- Lenore Gelfman and Louis Becker -- are District Court judges. Two others -- Louis P.Willemin and Diane O. Leasure -- are presidents of the Howard and Prince George's bar associations. And the fifth, Bernard Raum, is a Master in Chancery.
The sixth finalist, Neil Axel, is a private attorney from Columbia.
Jason Shapiro, an Ellicott City lawyer and member of the commission, said the group focused on finding the most qualified candidates.
"I'm satisfied that the best got their names sent up [to the governor]," Mr. Shapiro said. "It's unfortunate that we were unable to send up an African-American at this time."
The NAACP said in an April 28 letter to the governor that the commission's list should be rejected. The African American Coalition made a similar request in an April 25 letter.
The coalition's letter said black residents are "very disappointed and distressed" that none of the black applicants made the final list.
One of the nominees, Judge Gelfman, noted that she and the other finalists have broad experience in legal matters. "You certainly have people with tremendous experience, and you got two women on the list," she said.
Another nominee, Judge Becker, acknowledged that racial diversity is an issue that must be addressed in filling judgeships -- but he said it's not the only issue.
"It's an important subject, the aspect of diversity," Judge Becker said. "On the other hand, the qualifications are important also."