Leasure, Hill Staton in judges race Howard County: Sitting judges have endured a rigorous process and campaign.

February 27, 1996

THIS NEWSPAPER has long had a policy of supporting Maryland's Circuit Court judges when they are up for re-election. Our support for Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton was never really in doubt, even since Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed them last October to break the gender and color barriers on the Circuit Court bench in Howard County.

If a voter did harbor doubts, though, about the new judges' ability to operate in a public arena, the past few months should have put them to rest. Both women have impressed observers that they do possess the quality known as "judicial temperament." Also, they have come through a venomous campaign with their personal and professional reputations intact.

The race got off poorly when Howard District Court Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and Columbia attorney Jonathan Scott Smith, two applicants passed over by the governor, decried the process as too political and overly fixated with diversity. They decided to run, as did a fifth candidate, Columbia attorney Jay Fred Cohen.

Mr. Glendening's selection was certainly a bitter pill for Lenore Gelfman, who as an already respected District Court judge, stood a good chance of helping him meet his avowed goal. Unfortunately for her, the tone of this campaign has done her more harm than good: Her "negative" ratings, along with Mr. Smith's, ballooned in a recent bar association survey.

The rhetoric from their camp would have one believe that a candidate's accumulation of experience in one or more technical areas of the law should override everything else. Rather, the general public wants to see in its judges characteristics that remind it of itself, including Judge Leasure's pre-law experience as a school teacher or Judge Hill Staton's work in the Wilde Lake community, where she was a high school honors graduate 21 years ago. Beyond that, both have accumulated substantial credentials over a decade and a half of private practice.

The irony of this campaign is that Mr. Glendening thought court diversity could be introduced in Howard without great strife. Nevertheless, his instincts in making his appointments were sound.

In next Tuesday's primary for Circuit Court, The Sun endorses the re-election of Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton.

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