Schrader charges GOP was used Council member endorses Democratic judicial candidates

April 23, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Republican County Council member Dennis R. Schrader threw his support yesterday behind the circuit judges who won the Democratic judicial primary in March, saying the winner of the Republican primary "used" his party to win a spot on the November ballot.

Other prominent Republicans discounted his charge against District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, and she issued a statement saying she has broad-based support from Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Schrader endorsed Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure at a news conference outside an Ellicott City law office. Standing beside them, he said the judges are "extremely qualified" and have the "character and toughness" to issue appropriate sentences.

"Voting Judges Leasure and Staton out of office in November, in my opinion, would be a step backward," he said.

He said a key reason for the challengers' GOP primary victory was the "false impression" that they had Republican support. He said Judge Gelfman described herself as a "lifelong liberal Democrat" and said she "used" the Republican Party to win a primary.

Mr. Schrader said she turned to the Republican Party only after failing to gain a nomination for a circuit judgeship from Gov. Parris N. Glendening when the governor appointed Judges Hill Staton and Leasure.

"I have heard nothing to convince me that Lenore Gelfman has any interest in advancing the goals and interests of the Republican Party here in Howard County," he said.

The sitting judges gained places on the November ballot by winning the Democratic primary. Their challengers, District Judge Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith, qualified for the general election by winning the Republican primary.

Judge Gelfman responded to the remarks in a brief, written statement.

"The fact is, a judicial race is a bipartisan race -- one in which the issues are experience, qualifications, competency and temperament," she said in the statement. "That's what should be discussed in this campaign, and that's why our volunteers included many Democrats, Republicans and independents who worked together on our campaign."

Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga said he had no misgivings about Judge Gelfman's winning the GOP primary. "I see nothing wrong with any of the four looking for support from political people, not political parties," he said. "I don't see Lenore Gelfman playing the party line that strong."

Mr. Feaga noted that the county's Republican Central Committee did not endorse any of the candidates in the primary and said he did not know why Mr. Schrader criticized Judge Gelfman.

Allan Kittleman, chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Howard County, also said he did not share Mr. Schrader's opinions about Judge Gelfman.

"It's his opinion," said Mr. Kittleman, who called Mr. Schrader a "good Republican" and said the remarks illustrated that the party has a big tent and that its members have diverse views about the judicial candidates.

He said the party is staying out of the nonpartisan race. He noted that the county's Democratic Central Committee broke with tradition this spring and endorsed the sitting judges.

"The Republican Central Committee has always, always stayed nonpartisan in nonpartisan elections," he said.

Even while endorsing the sitting judges, Mr. Schrader said the local GOP should focus on the presidential race instead of the local judicial contest.

"If we fail to deliver Howard County for Bob Dole because too many of our volunteers and elected officials were participating in the nonpartisan Circuit Court race, I will be very disappointed," he said.

Judges Leasure and Hill Staton said they considered Mr. Schrader's comments about the presidential election irrelevant to their race. "It's not a statement of our position," Judge Hill Staton said. "We're pleased and proud he thinks highly of us."

Mr. Schrader, a first-term councilman, is considered to be a potential candidate for county executive in 1998.

It was the second time in a week he had stepped into the middle of a battle. Last week, he tried to resolve a dispute between his colleagues, Council Chairman Darrel Drown and Councilman C. Vernon Gray, over Mr. Gray's expense account.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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