Judges' race expensive for candidates With 3 weeks left, hopefuls have raised total of $110,000

Incumbents lead the way

Lawyers' donations criticized as possible conflict of interest

February 08, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Shanon D. Murray and Norris P. West contributed to this article.

With a little more than three weeks left until the primary vote in the Howard County judges' race, it already has become the most expensive in county history, with the five candidates combined having raised almost $110,000.

As of Jan. 30, appointed county circuit Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure had raised more than $64,000, almost $21,000 more than their chief challengers, District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and Columbia attorney Jonathan Scott Smith, have raised, according to campaign reports filed this week.

Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith expect to add substantially to their campaign funds Saturday when they hold a $60-a-person fund-raiser at Turf Valley featuring former Baltimore Colt Art Donovan.

The fifth candidate, attorney Jay Fred Cohen of Columbia, is running a low-budget campaign that has raised $1,234.

Lawyers and law firms, some from outside Howard County, are among the larger contributors to the sitting judges. Eleven firms from Baltimore and elsewhere have contributed at least $500 each.

The two major slates of candidates also have lent their own campaigns sizable sums. Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith have lent their effort $12,500 each, more than half of the total they have raised.

Both campaigns are spending tens of thousands of dollars on campaign consultants, pollsters, TV commercial production and hundreds of spots on cable TV channels over the next few weeks.

Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, criticized lawyers contributing to judges' campaigns, saying yesterday that it "tends to give the impression of conflict of interest."

Eleanor M. Carey, who once ran for attorney general and is now chairing a committee on a commission looking at the future of Maryland's courts, said she is troubled by the rise in judicial campaign costs this primary race.

"It's obviously what the concern is: that [whoever is elected] would be beholden to the people from whom they raise the money," she said. "It's a perception, but it's a concern that anyone who runs for political office would have."

In the last contested judicial race in Howard County, a 1992 campaign between Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeny and challenger Charles E. Weyland of Ellicott City, $41,045 was spent.

About the same amount was spent in the 1990 race between Judge James B. Dudley and Joanne Woodson Branch of Columbia. Most of Howard's earlier judicial elections were not contested or involved less spending.

Sitting judges

Among notable contributors to the campaign of Judges Hill Staton and Leasure:

* Six Baltimore law firms and five from Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Virginia gave $500 to $1,000 each. The Baltimore firms are Ballard, Spahr, Andrews and Ingersoll; Kramon and Graham; Miles and Stockbridge; Schochor, Federico, and Staton; Weinberg and Green; and Whiteford, Taylor and Preston.

Robert S. Hillman, a partner in the Whiteford firm, said he does not know the sitting judges and that his firm donated $1,000 because members believe in the "sitting judge principle" and traditionally support the gubernatorial appointees in elections.

* First Municipal Credit Corp. of Columbia gave $1,000. President J. P. Grant, said he has known Judge Hill Staton and her husband for 20 years.

* Baltimore attorney Paul D. Bekman and Ellicott City resident Daniel M. Clements gave $500 each. Mr. Bekman is a former president of the Baltimore Bar Association and is a nominee to become the next president of the state bar association. Mr. Clements is president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.

* The sitting judges were the single largest contributors to their campaign, each giving $1,500 and each lending the effort $6,000.

Gelfman-Smith

Among the notable contributors to the campaign of Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith are:

* Baltimore attorney Stephen L. Miles, who gave $500. He said he was interested in having "the highest quality of judges on Maryland's benches" and supports the challengers because he knows them.

* Columbia attorney David H. Greenberg, Judge Gelfman's brother, was the single largest contributor to her slate, giving $1,000. Mr. Smith's mother, Eloise Rand, contributed the second-largest amount, $670.

* Other notable contributors included former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly of Hunt Valley, and Howard County attorneys Thomas Lloyd and Clarke Ahlers.

Judge candidates' campaign finances

FUNDS RAISED

........... Hill Staton/Leasure ........... Gelfman/Smith ........... Cohen

Cash ...... $51,440 ....................... $18,395 ................. $200

Loans ..... $12,000 ....................... $25,000 ................. ---

In-kind ... $963 .......................... $443 .................... $1,034

Interest .. --- ........................... $49 ..................... ---

TOTAL ..... $64,403 ....................... $43,887 ................. $1,234

EXPENSES *

Consultants $10,000 ....................... $5,000 .................. ---

Polling ... $9,500 ........................ $750 .................... ---

TV ads/time $15,378 ....................... $8,500 .................. ---

Other ..... $11,486 ....................... $22,052 ................. $1,034

TOTAL ..... $46,364 ....................... $36,302 ................. $1,034

* Expenses reported as incurred or already obligated to spend.

Source: Campaign finance statements filed by candidates with the state by the Tuesday deadline.

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