Whites cry 'foul' again over judicial choices

Comment

October 29, 1995|By Kevin Thomas

Last Sunday's column contained two errors for which I apologize. I mistakenly referred to Judge Lenore Gelfman as administrative judge for the District Court. She is actually an associate judge. Also, I stated that Judge Gelfman was disappointed that she was not recommended for a position on the Circuit Court. In fact, the county bar association did recommend Judge Gelfman. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, however, chose other appointees.

HERE WE GO again.

With Gov. Parris N. Glendening's appointment of two women to judgeships on the Howard County Circuit Court -- one of them black -- the anger and resentment begins.

I'm talking about the response of those who count themselves as members of America's greatest of all victim classes: the white male.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

It is difficult to judge how many consider themselves among this group. But at least one of them has stepped forward to say that Howard's bar association -- at least 90 percent white male -- will rise up in angry indignation to defeat the appointments at the polls.

"Diversity is a very low priority and certainly should not override qualifications," said Malcolm Kane, a county attorney who feels that Mr. Glendening's choices don't reflect "the will of county attorneys."

Convoluted process

Part of what makes all this difficult to understand is the strange and convoluted way in which judges have been seated in Maryland.

The governor traditionally makes the appointments, but only after bar association members get a chance to pass judgment on the candidates in a referendum. In this case, the referendum was held a little more than a month ago and the results did not favor the Glendening appointments. The governor based his decision on a newly reconstituted advisory panel that was explicitly directed to make diversity a priority.

And so for the first time, the Howard County bench will be something other than all-white.

And women will occupy three seats, since Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, the only woman now on the bench, will continue to preside as the District Court's administrative judge.

Judge Gelfman, as it happens, is delighted that more women will be sitting on the bench, even though she was disappointed that she was not among those recommended for the higher Circuit Court.

Judge Gelfman, who was one of the few women practicing law in Howard County -- as both a prosecutor and defense attorney -- said that the emergence of women is heartening.

Unfortunately, Judge Gelfman is being used to bolster the argument of those who want to deny that Howard County lacked diversity in the first place.

"If this were a good ol' boy situation, how do you explain Judge Gelfman?" Mr. Kane asks. "I guess that would make her one of the good ol' boys. And Gelfman is Jewish and there's never been a Jew on the bench either."

Perhaps Mr. Kane has never heard the word "tokenism."

And by the way, being a token doesn't necessarily speak to the individual's qualifications. Most often the person chosen to be the exception to the rule is the most hard-working and competent of the lot.

Judge Gelfman is known as extremely diligent, conscientious and fair, but unfortunately there were not enough of her.

And let me say something about all the subjective criteria that go into these decisions that seem to get questioned only when they don't include white males.

There is an argument to be made that status as a woman or minority should elevate a candidate's ranking to the point where they are, in fact, better than the alternative.

Since fairness is at the root of what makes a strong judiciary, then certainly the perspective of women and minorities must be acknowledged as valuable.

A key to judging who would make a good judge requires that everyone recognize that women and minorities have different career paths in this society, and to deny them access because their career paths aren't the same as a white male's is wrong.

That's what people like Mr. Kane are lamenting: The emergence of new criteria that are more inclusive than the old ones.

They couch it as treating everyone the same -- holding all candidates to the same standards.

But what they are really doing is coming to the defense of a system that has always favored white males by perpetuating their own power and influence.

The old way

It would be nice if one day the issue of race or gender never entered into these decisions. But if it means continuing to deny women and minorities the ability to advance, then I welcome this transitional period.

As for the angry white men who are feeling hurt by all this, think of the pain caused for generations by people who denied others access to power and position.

Oh, I know, you never personally discriminated against anyone.

It's just that you liked the old way of doing things because it favored you.

Kevin Thomas is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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