Eight apply to fill seat on court

June 29, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The eight people -- a mix of men, women, whites and blacks -- who have applied for a Howard Circuit Court judgeship may increase the chance that the seat will be filled with someone who fits the governor's call for diversity.

The list, released yesterday, includes two white men, three white women, two black women and one black man. A previous list for another judgeship includes four men and two women, all white.

The Circuit Court now has three white judges, with a fourth position vacant since the retirement of a white judge in May. Yesterday's list is only for that position but the six candidates on the earlier list will be considered for both judgeships.

The second opening is for a fifth judgeship created during the 1994 General Assembly.

That appointment was stalled last spring amid complaints that the list of finalists didn't reflect the county's racial diversity.

"We have to ensure that we have people on the bench who are sensitive to a range of issues," said County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an East Columbia Democrat who criticized the first list of finalists.

Of the three blacks on the new list, Donna Hill Staton and JoAnn Woodson Branche had applied for the earlier judgeship.

The third black candidate is Bernard Allen Cook, who said he applied for the post to bring diversity to the county bench.

But Columbia attorney Jo Glasco did not apply a second time, asserting in a written statement that her first attempt to get a judgeship was met with hostility by some members of the county Bar Association.

"Hopefully, the governor's reconstituting the Howard County Judicial Nominating Commission and his emphasis on diversity of race, sex, experience and background will result in a fairer, less biased and more inclusive process," Ms. Glasco said in the statement.

However, it is too soon to determine whether a minority or a woman will get one of the judgeships because members of the Judicial Nominating Commission -- the group that screens judicial candidates -- have not been appointed. They are to be named by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in early August.

But legal sources say a combination of factors signals a break from an "old-boy network" that often determined who was appointed a judge, increasing the likelihood that a woman or black will get a judicial appointment.

"I don't think any of the old rules are applying to the judicial selection process," Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon said. "I think we're breaking out of the old-boy mentality."

Ms. McLendon said she believes the next judges may not have to live and work in Howard to get the appointments. She added that they may not have to be deeply involved in legal groups in the county or get a Howard District Court judgeship before ascending to the higher court.

The new judges may be younger than typical appointees, without a wide range of legal experience like that older candidates, she said.

Ms. McLendon said the election of Mr. Glendening as governor last fall is the key factor behind the changes on how judges are appointed and who gets these appointments.

In April, Mr. Glendening announced a judicial-selection policy that is aimed at eliminating the "old-boy network" of judges and bringing more women and minorities onto the bench.

The governor also is reconstituting the nominating commission, a mix of 13 lawyers and citizens. Unlike former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who let bar associations choose all six lawyers on the commissions, Mr. Glendening will pick two of the lawyers.

That policy was created after Mr. Glendening allowed the nominating commission set up by Mr. Schaefer to decide on the finalists for Howard's new judgeship. That commission was not bound by Mr. Glendening's diversity directive.

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

Members of the African American Coalition of Howard County and the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged Mr. Glendening to not consider the list, saying the finalists did not reflect the county's racial diversity.

The appointment was postponed, with Mr. Glendening now seen likely to make his selection when he makes the other appointment.

Councilman Gray said he believes an orientation session for new commission members will train them in the need for diversity is met.

The session will cover racial issues and other sensitive matters, such as domestic violence and custody cases, said Mr. Gray, who helped the governor establish the new judicial-selection policy.

Yesterday's list of judicial candidates includes:

* JoAnn Cornelia Woodson Branche of Columbia. A private attorney, she lost a bid to unseat Circuit Judge James Dudley in the 1990 retainment election.

* Bernard Allen Cook, a 36-year-old private attorney from Dayton. He handles mostly civil cases, including many medical malpractices lawsuits.

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