Lawyer Leasure sworn in as Circuit Court judge She is first woman to join bench at that level in county

November 14, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,SUN STAFF

Diane O. Leasure was sworn in yesterday as the first woman to serve as a judge in Howard County's Circuit Court.

Speaking before a crowd of supporters and members of the county's legal community at her swearing-in ceremony, Judge Leasure vowed to be impartial and said she is ready for the challenges ahead.

"I am ready to get to work," said Judge Leasure, 42, of Ellicott City, who has been practicing law in Prince George's County. "I am honored that I will be serving the citizens of Howard County."

Judge Leasure -- flanked by her husband, Ralph Leasure, and their son, Kevin, 10 -- took the oath of office to become the Circuit Court's fifth judge.

After her husband and son helped her put on her black judicial robe for the first time, Judge Leasure took her seat alongside the Circuit Court's sitting judges.

On Monday, Donna Hill Staton of Clarksville will be sworn in as the Circuit Court's first black judge.

Ms. Staton will replace Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr., who retired last spring.

Judge Leasure and Ms. Staton were appointed as judges last month by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as part of his effort to bring racial and gender diversity to Maryland's courts.

Until yesterday, all the Howard County's District Court and Circuit Court judges except one were white men. Judge Lenore Gelfman of District Court was the county's only female judge.

The new Circuit Court judges, each of whom will have an annual salary of $93,500, will have to be confirmed by voters next year. If they keep their seats, they will serve 15-year terms.

At yesterday's ceremony, several speakers honored Judge Leasure, describing the former president of the Prince George's County Bar Association as someone who will be firm, objective, thoughtful and articulate.

"I can think of no one more qualified and dedicated to hold such an important position," said P. Dennis Belman, a Columbia attorney. "Diane has achieved this goal on her own merit."

George Brugger, a partner in the Lanham firm where Judge Leasure handled primarily complex civil matters for 12 years, recalled how Judge Leasure typically would be in her office before sunrise and would work until well after dark.

"Our firm is losing part of its heart," Mr. Brugger said. "You're lucky to get her."

Since Judge Sybert's retirement, the Circuit Court's three judges have struggled to keep up with a docket crowded with civil matters and criminal cases.

The court had been seeking a fifth judge for a decade, but the spot remained unfilled for eight months while the governor searched for his appointees.

The court's administrative judge, Raymond Kane Jr., welcomed Judge Leasure to the bench, saying she has the skills and temperament to become an asset to the county.

"We've been waiting a long, long time for you," Judge Kane told his new counterpart.

Judge Leasure, along with Ms. Staton, will go through an orientation program that includes visiting criminal justice agencies in the county and working with the court's three judges, Court Administrator John Shatto said.

They will start handling criminal and civil cases in December, gradually building on their dockets, he said.

"It's not like they're thrown to the wolves right away," Mr. Shatto said.

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