New face in judge's race Howard County: Jay Cohen may be a spoiler in an election that already reeks of spoiling.

January 03, 1996

JAY FRED COHEN is an affable man with 35 years of practicing law. He recently entered the race to sit as a judge on Howard County's Circuit Court.

He will be challenging Circuit Court Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure, who were appointed recently by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Ms. Staton and Ms. Leasure were already facing challenges from District Judge Lenore Gelfman and Columbia Attorney Jonathan Scott Smith. The primary is March 5.

Not being a member of the Howard County Bar Association, Mr. Cohen may suffer from a lack of name recognition among the tightly knit community of county lawyers. Although he's been a resident of Columbia for two decades, his practice is centered in Baltimore County.

His potential role as a spoiler is intriguing. His entry alters the dynamics of what was shaping up as a "tag team" match between Judges Staton and Leasure, whose appointments were aimed at broadening the diversity on Howard's bench, and the team of Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith, who contend that the governor's decision-making process was overly political. Their vociferous challenge of Ms. Leasure as the county's first female Circuit Court judge and Ms. Staton as its first black judge threatened to carry some nasty undertones.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Mr. Cohen to get dragged in by the murky undertow of this race. Dick Gelfman, the television news personality and husband to Judge Gelfman, had asked Mr. Cohen not to run, according to Mr. Cohen. When that didn't work, Mr. Gelfman chose to publicly discredit the challenger, pointing out to a Sun reporter that Mr. Cohen had once defended clients who were accused of charging excessive interest rates on loans. Mr. Gelfman was making reference to material he came across as a consumer reporter on TV.

If Mr. Gelfman wants to cross the line between journalist and advocate for his wife's campaign, that's his business. But his attack on Mr. Cohen is unfair. It is not unusual for an attorney to represent an unscrupulous client, nor does it connote a lack of ethics. As Mr. Cohen said, "Everyone is entitled to representation."

The Sun has traditionally opposed the contested election of judges. The unseemly tone of this campaign thus far only confirms the veracity of that long-held position.

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