Learning from the judicial debacle Howard County: Question on the morning after: 'We have to go through this again?'

March 11, 1996

THE FIRST QUESTION people had the morning after the judicial primary in Howard County was the same one Marylanders asked about all the races: "Who won?" In the case of the Howard judges, however, the answer often elicited a second query, "We have to go through this again?"

Yes, the Circuit Court race in Howard was so nasty even the politicians blanched. The candidates didn't need robes for this affair, but mud flaps. The campaign started ugly -- and careened downhill. The victory by sitting Judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton in the Democratic primary and by District Court Judge Lenore A. Gelfman (a Democrat) and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith in the Republican primary sets up a rematch of these tandems in the fall. Perhaps they and their supporters will turn this bitter experience into something more positive for themselves -- and for voters.

Here is what we hope not to hear again come autumn: Mr. Smith embarrassing himself by proclaiming he finally knows "the pain of discrimination" as a 39-year-old white male. The sitting judges insinuating that Mr. Smith is disreputable because his yellow page ads specifically offer his counsel against child abuse charges. The Gelfman-Smith team trying to make this race a referendum on Gov. Parris N. Glendening or county Councilman C. Vernon Gray when, at this point, it should be about the competence of the candidates. If we never again hear the incumbents describe the challengers as "whiners," or the challengers contend the new judges need "training wheels," that would be fine, too.

Here is what we hope to see: The bar association or another group sponsoring televised debates to give voters a truer sense of who might make a fair, knowledgeable judge.

The stormy primary may have a silver lining in that it was so tempestuous, voters were fully aware of it. In fact, 91 percent of Tuesday's voters chose judicial candidates in Howard, better than the 88 percent in Harford County or 75 percent in Anne Arundel County.

The Sun has traditionally opposed judicial elections. Howard's primary did nothing to diminish our view. Since a rematch will occur in November, however, let the participants learn from the mistakes this time to build something more beneficial for voters and the county.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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