Minority judges urged

June 15, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

With one Howard County Circuit Court judgeship stalled amid minority complaints, the commission screening applicants for a second post will likely face pressure to name as finalists blacks who were passed over the first time.

As state officials begin selecting judges with a reconfigured commission directed to put more minorities and women on the bench, county minority leaders have renewed their call for a black candidate to get the job.

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray said now is the best time for a black judge to be named, because it may be years before there is another opening.

He noted that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is interested in naming more minority judges, but the three white judges on the county's Circuit Court are young enough to serve many more years. The oldest is 57. By state law, judges don't have to retire until they are 70.

"There's no telling that there will be another governor who will be as committed to diversity as this one," said Mr. Gray, an East Columbia Democrat.

The Circuit Court has two vacancies for judges, each with an annual salary of about $93,500.

One judgeship was created to help with the court's caseload, which has more than doubled since a fourth judge was added in 1981, according to state statistics. The second opening is to replace Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr., who retired in May.

Since Judge Sybert's retirement, the three remaining judges have struggled with crowded criminal and civil dockets. Some judges have presided over two jury trials a week, a rigorous schedule that has led to postponement of other cases.

State officials are accepting applications for Judge Sybert's position until June 27, with the appointment most likely to be made by Mr. Glendening this summer.

However, the appointment of the other judge is stalled, with the governor's office saying it could be months before the post is filled.

In April, Mr. Gray -- of the local African American Coalition and the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- said none of the black applicants for the new judgeship made the list of finalists submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission to the governor.

But before a new list of candidates can be winnowed down for the governor, the panel that screens Howard judicial candidates must be restructured.

Mr. Glendening is fielding applicants for the 13-member nominating commission.

New members of the commission -- a mix of lawyers and citizens picked by the governor and the county bar association -- are expected to be appointed by late July.

Unlike former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who let bar associations pick all six lawyers on the commissions, Mr. Glendening will pick two of the lawyers.

The governor, who announced his judicial-selection policy in April, is picking these lawyers in an effort to eliminate the "old boy" network of judges and bring more women and minorities onto the bench.

But that policy was changed after Mr. Glendening opted to let the nominating commission already set up by Mr. Schaefer decide on Howard's new judge. That commission was not bound by Mr. Glendening's diversity directive.

Fifteen lawyers applied for the post, with the commission submitting the names of six finalists to the governor. None of the three black lawyers who applied made the list of finalists.

All 15 lawyers are eligible for Judge Sybert's post, but they will have to be interviewed by the new commission -- along with any new applicants.

Mr. Gray said he expects county minority groups to continue supporting the black candidates who applied for the first judgeship. He noted, however, that there may be efforts to recruit more minority candidates.

Applicants for Judge Sybert's post must be lawyers and live in Howard County. Their applications go to the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which will send them to the nominating commission.

The county bar association will review the applications, interview the candidates and provide the commission with recommendations.

The commission will interview each applicant -- focusing on his or her experience and temperament -- and provide the governor with a list of finalists.

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

The new judge would have to be confirmed in the first election after the appointment. If approved by the voters, the judge would serve a 15-year term.

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