Five contend for four Circuit Court judgeships Lone challenger targets the judge who issued a warrant for him in 1984

Campaign 1996

March 03, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The lone challenger for four Circuit Court judgeships in Anne Arundel launched the first and only attack of his campaign -- aiming at the judge who issued a warrant for his arrest in 1984.

Daniel C. Conkling, a lawyer and certified public accountant, is -- circulating a large sheaf of papers that he said shows that 55 percent of Judge Eugene M. Lerner's rulings were reversed or remanded when appealed.

"I think that kind of record speaks for itself," Mr. Conkling said.

He insisted, however, that his criticism has nothing to do with the bench warrant Judge Lerner issued May 21, 1984, when Mr. Conkling failed to appear in Circuit Court for his appeal of a speeding ticket.

Mr. Conkling, who was not arrested, appeared voluntarily before Judge Lerner the next day.

"He was as nice to me as he could be," Mr. Conkling said, denying that he holds a grudge.

"I just don't like the guy. I don't think he's doing the job," he said.

Mr. Conkling said he based his figures on opinions the appellate courts published.

Charges called half-truths

But Judge Lerner argues that using only published opinions -- those the courts believed were important -- distorts his records.

He said only 18 percent of his 380 decisions that were appealed have been reversed.

Many of the reversals dealt with gray areas of the law that were being decided by Maryland courts for the first time or involved cases in which the Court of Appeals reversed what had been established legal precedent, Judge Lerner said.

One case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the judges split 5-4, he said.

"He's dealing with a very small portion of my record. He's dealing in half-truths," Judge Lerner said.

A report from the Administrative Office of the Courts shows that Maryland's appellate courts reverse or remand in some form more than half of the cases they decide.

In the fiscal year that ended last June, 59 of the 146 cases handled by the Court of Appeals and 1,146 of the 2,105 handled by the Court of Special Appeals were affirmed.

The rest were vacated, remanded, reversed or reversed in part, according to the report.

Mr. Conkling said last week that he had not seen the report and could not comment on it.

Lack of experience

Judge Lerner criticized Mr. Conkling's qualifications, echoing many trial lawyers in Anne Arundel who say the challenger lacks courtroom experience.

DTC "Where's his record? That's what I want to know," Judge Lerner said. When he announced his candidacy in January, Mr. Conkling acknowledged that he had little trial experience and refused to specify cases he had handled in the courts. He refused again to talk about it last week.

"I'm not even going to talk about my cases," he said.

Mr. Conkling and Judge Lerner are among five candidates for four seats on the Circuit Court bench in Tuesday's primary election. Candidates for the posts, which pay $93,600 annually, are:

* Mr. Conkling, 55, of Pasadena. He was president of the county chapter of the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants from 1991 to 1992, is a board member for St. Jane Frances School in Riviera Beach, was president of the Glen Burnie Jaycees from 1979 to 1980 and was elected Business Person of the Year by the Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce three years ago.

He has had a law license since 1970 and an accounting practice in the county for 30 years.

* Clayton Greene Jr., 45, of Severna Park. He is a Glen Burnie native and attended Anne Arundel County schools.

He served as administrative judge for the county District Court from 1990 until last year, when he became the first black appointed to the Circuit Court bench.

While a University of Maryland student, he was an ironworker, a clothing store salesman and a janitor in the county schools.

He became a lawyer in 1977, worked as an assistant public defender from 1978 to 1985 and was deputy public defender from 1985 to 1988.

He then was appointed as a District Court judge.

* Judge Lerner, 64, of Annapolis. He was born in Annapolis, attended Annapolis schools and served in the Army from 1954 to 1956.

He served on the Annapolis City Council and was Annapolis city attorney for 10 years before his appointment to the Circuit Court bench in 1979.

* Pamela Lee North, 44, of Annapolis. She grew up in Severna Park and attended county schools.

She has been a lawyer since 1983 and worked simultaneously as assistant public defender and in private practice until 1989. When state laws changed to require public defenders to serve full time, she joined the public defender's office full time.

She left that office in 1991 for a private practice, in which she handled criminal and domestic cases and specialized in constitutional issues.

She became the first woman to serve on the county's Circuit Court when she was appointed last year.

* Martin A. Wolff, 57, of Severna Park. He was born in Nashville, Tenn., attended Baltimore schools and has lived in Anne Arundel County for the past 30 years.

He has been a member of the Glen Burnie Jaycees.

He served as an assistant state's attorney in Anne Arundel for two years and was a deputy state's attorney for six years before he was appointed to the Circuit Court bench in 1979.

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