Sit and Run? Howard County: Newly seated Circuit Court judges shouldn't face immediate election.

November 28, 1995

ELECTIONS OFTEN have a cleansing effect, creating dialogue, defining issues and pointing to a direction for the future. But if the two new judges appointed to Howard County's Circuit Court face challenges in March, as is being considered, very little positive is likely to come of it.

As it is, the appointment of Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton by Gov. Parris N. Glendening represents a welcome sign of progress. Their rise to the bench adds diversity by giving Howard its first females and first black on the Circuit Court. But a potential challenge by disgruntled members of the local bar association -- including the possibility that District Court Judge Lenore Gelfman will enter the race -- holds very little appeal to us. The other possible candidates whose names have been mentioned are county attorney Jonathan Scott Smith and District Court Judge Louis A. Becker.

All three were on an informal list of candidates recommended to the governor by the bar association and they are well qualified. But Mr. Glendening did the right thing by finding equally qualified candidates who better met his goal of achieving greater racial and gender balance on the bench. Nevertheless, some sentiment exists that the governor should have elevated Judge Gelfman. A challenge by her and the others could prove formidable. The potential candidates have name recognition among attorneys, the group most likely to vote in the March 5 primary. But they would have to overcome the notion that their candidacy is based on little more than sour grapes.

It's too bad the new appointees may face a campaign just after being sworn in. The task of running a court for the first time and running for re-election right away will prove daunting. They may also find it difficult to amass the necessary name recognition for an election because both practiced law outside the county. Their biggest asset is the symbolism of representing women and minorities. Unfortunately, this positive development for the courts is being saddled with negative emotions fueled by individual ambitions. The governor made his decision after a drawn-out and deliberate analysis. If not everyone agrees with his judgment, that's his or her right. But to politicize the process at this point is not in the best interest of the justice system for Howard County.

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