Panel broadens pool of judicial nominees Five women, five men are on combined list for 2 Circuit Court vacancies

October 11, 1995|By JAMES M. CORAM | JAMES M. CORAM,SUN STAFF

In April, the state Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County was lambasted for not including blacks and for having too few women in its pool of judicial nominees for the Circuit Court.

Yesterday, a new commission named three women, including a black, among the four local attorneys it nominated to replace retired Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr.

Within the next month, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to pick two candidates from the combined pools to fill two Circuit Court vacancies. The new judges could be on the bench by Jan. 1.

The four attorneys are Donna Carol Sanger of Columbia, Donna Hill Staton of Clarksville, and Linda Sorg Ostovitz and Jonathan Scott Smith of Ellicott City.

They join four men and two women -- all whites -- who were nominated in April to fill a newly created fifth judgeship on the county's Circuit Court.

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray and representatives of two black organizations had criticized the April nominees because they did not include blacks. All of the county's judges are white, and only one -- District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman -- is a woman.

Mr. Gray said yesterday that the latest slate of nominees complements the earlier pool and that he is pleased with the 10-member list.

"One of things I had recommended as a member of the governor's transition team was that there be orientation sessions to sensitize the commissions so that they might be able to ask the appropriate type of questions," Mr. Gray said. "We were concerned about domestic cases, child abuse and the needs of African-Americans, and we were concerned that we have judges who reflect those concerns."

Mr. Glendening created an orientation program in April, and Howard's new judicial nominating panel attended it last month.

A spokeswoman in the governor's office said Mr. Glendening would not comment on the latest slate of attorneys until he has met all 10.

The governor did not appoint anyone from the earlier list, Mr. Gray said, because he wanted to consider the two lists in tandem.

"Together, the two lists make an excellent pool" from which the governor can choose Howard County's new judges, Mr. Gray said.

Attorney David A. Carney, chairman of the nominating commission that selected the four most recent nominees, agreed.

"It is probably the best pool we've ever had," Mr. Carney said. "We've never had 10 [nominees]. We've never had as diverse a pool representing the diversity of the county and the diversity of the [local] bar."

The pool is made up of five men and five women. The six nominees selected previously were Judge Gelfman, District Judge Louis A. Becker, Prince George's County Bar Association President Diane O. Leasure, Howard County master in chancery Bernard A. Raum, former public defender Louis P. Willemin and Columbia attorney Neil E. Axel.

Ms. Staton, a Clarksville attorney and the only black in the pool, and Ms. Ostovitz, an Ellicott City attorney, were among the 15 attorneys interviewed by the earlier commission, but they were not then recommended to the governor.

The governor's appointments can't come too soon, attorneys say. The Circuit Court docket of felony criminal cases, divorces, child-custody disputes and child-support cases has doubled since 1981.

The new judges will be paid about $93,500 a year and must be confirmed by the voters in the first election after their appointment. If approved, they would serve 15 years before having to stand for re-election.

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