Incumbent judges forced to campaign Lone challenger makes it a race

February 07, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff

By deciding to run for Circuit Court judge, a Glen Burnie accountant and lawyer has turned four incumbents into politicians, forcing them into a campaign lifestyle of church breakfasts, political meetings and chicken dinners.

The race between challenger Daniel C. Conkling and the four judges has generated little controversy and may turn out to be little more than a referendum on how much influence Anne Arundel County's lawyers have in deciding who is best qualified to serve.

The Anne Arundel County Bar Association announced its endorsement Monday of the four incumbents whose $93,500-a-year seats are up for grabs: Clayton Greene Jr., Eugene M. Lerner, Pamela L. North and Martin A. Wolff. The Maryland State Bar Association endorsed them Jan. 25.

The judges formed a joint campaign organization last month and have since made most of their appearances together.

"I enjoy it," Judge Lerner said of the series of appearances at senior citizen centers, civic clubs and political breakfasts and dinners. "The only problem is that I'm going to be fatter when this is over."

Judge North, a seasoned trial lawyer who was appointed to the bench last year, is less enthusiastic about the politics involved in acampaign.

She likes people, but has always taken pride in being nonpolitical. "I do look forward to it being over," she said yesterday.

Both Judge North and Judge Greene, a former District Court judge who also was appointed to the Circuit Court bench last year, are on the ballot because Maryland law requires a judge to run in the election that follows his or her appointment.

Judge Lerner and Judge Wolff were appointed in 1979 and ran unopposed in 1980.

With a month left before the March 5 primary, the judges have been appearing at a half-dozen events each week, ranging from a meeting Thursday at the Stoney Creek Democratic Club to a two-hour service Sunday at Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church in Annapolis.

"It's not the traditional political campaign where we can make a whole lot of promises to people," said Judge Greene.

Last night's $50-per-ticket fund-raiser brought out 500 supporters, about 200 fewer than the number who purchased tickets. After expenses for the event were paid for, the fund-raiser netted an estimated $22,000, said Glen Burnie lawyer Martin B. Lessans, campaign treasurer.

Mr. Lessans said the money will pay for a cable television commercial, hand-sized cards with the judges' credentials and newspaper advertisements listing the people endorsing the judges.

The race has so far been more genteel than in Howard County, where the challengers for two Circuit Court judgeships were accused of creating a "carnival atmosphere" by waving at cars at intersections and for bringing a pickup truck covered with campaign slogans to a courthouse news conference.

By contrast, Mr. Conkling has refrained from criticizing the opposition. He says he anticipates spending $20,000 -- most of it his own money -- but acknowledged that so far he has not been campaigning much.

Judges are prohibited from taking political stands and from discussing cases they have decided. But that leaves a lot of subjects open for discussion with voters, the judges say.

The judges also say that the campaign can be tiring but that it is giving them a new perspective.

"You lead a relatively sheltered life as a judge. You sit in a courtroom and the cases come to you. When you get out in a campaign, you get a different look at people," said Judge Wolff.

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