Campaign is a distraction, 2 new judges say CAMPAIGN 1996

February 02, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

The two recent appointees to the Howard County Circuit Court said at a citizens forum this week that the race to win 15-year terms on the bench is distracting them from their new jobs.

Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure said Wednesday night that the hotly contested judicial race comes as they are working to help ease the backlog of cases that had piled up before they were appointed.

"I would rather spend my evenings and weekends in the court, doing the work that needs to be done for the people of our county," said Judge Leasure, who became the county's first female Circuit Court judge when she was appointed Nov. 13.

Much of the two-hour forum before about 40 people at County Council chambers in Ellicott City involved a discourse on the role of Maryland judges and courts. It was sponsored by the Howard County Citizens Association.

The five candidates for two seats on the bench also touted their qualifications and, in the case of the appointed judges, tried to defend themselves against their opponents' attacks.

District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith have contended since joining the race that they have more experience than Judges Hill Staton and Leasure, who were appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. New judges must win election to 15-year terms.

The last challenger to file for the March 5 primary, Jay Fred Cohen, said he was the independent choice. He said the others are the favorites of either the governor or local lawyers.

Judges Leasure and Hill Staton cited their extensive civil court experience. They also said they are fair and have appropriate judicial temperament.

Judge Hill Staton, who became the county's first black jurist when she was named Nov. 20, said she went through an exhaustive review by the state Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County and was found to be qualified.

"It's a little uncomfortable to be involved in an election process," she said.

Judge Gelfman defended the election process.

"The fact of the matter is that the [Maryland] Constitution mandates the popular selection of judges," she said.

To illustrate her experience, Judge Gelfman said she has heard more than 6,000 cases in 6 1/2 years in District Court.

Mr. Smith pulled out a two-volume publication he wrote to guide Maryland attorneys through various areas of the law.

Mr. Cohen said he has run a busy law practice for 35 years and has tried more cases in the state appellate courts than his opponents have.

"I decided that what we really needed was a good choice," he said. "That is, a lawyer with more experience than all of them put together.

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