Judges: Greene, Lerner, North, Wolff Voters should reappoint sitting Circuit Court judges.

February 29, 1996

ANNE ARUNDEL voters should pay special attention Tuesday to the election for four Circuit Court judgeships. Careless balloting could put an accountant with virtually no legal experience on the bench.

The accountant is Daniel C. Conkling of Glen Burnie, and because his last name begins with a "C," it will be listed first of the five candidates for Circuit Court on the ballot, which is rather like a horse drawing the pole position at the Preakness by virtue of his name. History proves that voters who are undecided or uninformed when they enter the voting booth tend to pick the first name they see. This effect is especially pronounced in low-profile races such as contested judgeships.

Voters should remember Mr. Conkling's name so they can be sure to pass over it in favor of the other candidates: Clayton Greene Jr., Eugene M. Lerner, Pamela L. North and Martin A. Wolff. All four are experienced jurists who ought to be returned to the bench.

Two of them -- Mr. Greene, the county's first black Circuit Court judge, and Ms. North, its first woman Circuit Court judge -- were recently appointed by the governor, but Maryland law requires all Circuit Court judges to run for a 15-year term in the first election after their appointment. The law also requires veteran judges to stand for election every 15 years; this year, it is Mr. Lerner's and Mr. Wolff's turn.

The practice of electing judges has long since outworn its usefulness. At one time, popular judicial elections were seen as a way to weed out bad judges. Elections also were viewed favorably by minorities, who felt they offered the only opportunity for a diverse judiciary since the insider network that produced appointees was unlikely to include women or blacks. But as the recent selection of Judges Greene and North shows, those days are ending. As for weeding out bad judges, a strict screening process generally has ensured qualified judges.

Today, judicial elections create more problems than they solve. They require sitting judges who ought to be above the fray to be political, especially when a challenger emerges. Such elections ought to be abolished. Until that happens, voters can keep politics out of the judicial selection process by choosing the sitting judges.

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