Howard judicial race gives sign of campaign style for fall election New appointees win Democratic primary

March 06, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

The bitterly fought primary battle for two Howard County Circuit Court judgeships ended yesterday with the strong prospect of a similar round of campaign hostilities this fall.

Both major slates of candidates -- one made up of two sitting judges appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last fall and the other comprised of their two leading challengers -- survived the primary to run again in the fall general election.

With 83 of 85 precincts reporting last night -- all but absentee ballots -- the two sitting judges, Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton, took the county's Democratic primary.

Their two main challengers -- District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith -- prevailed in the county's Republican primary.

In taking even one of the two party primaries from the incumbents, the Gelfman-Smith team claimed a big victory. "We have shattered the sitting judge principle in Howard County," Mr. Smith said. "They changed from sitting judges to sitting ducks."

The appointed incumbents -- Judge Leasure is the county's first female Circuit Court judge and Judge Hill Staton is the county's first black judge -- vowed to continue the fight.

"I don't think this is indicative of what we can expect in November," Judge Leasure said.

"I think we are only going to be stronger."

A third challenger -- Jay Fred Cohen, who ran a low-key campaign -- trailed in both primaries.

The split in the results between the two parties reflects the unusually contentious politics of the judicial race -- a race marked by repeated complaints and countercharges, particularly over television advertisements run by the Gelfman-Smith slate.

In part, Judge Gelfman and Mr. Smith -- with strong ties to the county's legal establishment -- campaigned against Mr. Glendening and County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Columbia Democrat, accusing them of fulfilling a goal of making the Howard bench more diverse by appointing lawyers inexperienced in criminal law.

In yesterday's vote to pick two candidates to vie for a single seat on the Howard school board in the fall, incomplete returns were running very close -- with three of the five candidates topping the balloting in this order: Francine Wishnick, Jane Schuchardt and Virginia Charles.

In Harford County, Circuit Judge Thomas E. Marshall, a Democrat, defeated Republican Steven J. Scheinin in both primaries. He will run unopposed in the fall.

In Anne Arundel County, four sitting judges -- Eugene M. Lerner, Martin A. Wolff, Clayton Greene Jr. and Pamela North -- swept to victory over Daniel C. Conkling, a Pasadena resident, who was criticized for his lack of courtroom experience.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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