Glendening's big judicial appointment Top court job: Will he play politics in naming successor to Chief Judge Robert Murphy?

June 17, 1996

NOT SINCE Marvin Mandel has a Maryland governor had to make such a pivotal judicial decision: Naming someone this fall to replace Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy to run the state's far-flung judicial system, a bureaucracy with a $170 million budget and a huge administrative burden.

Interest groups and politicians have already started pressuring Gov. Parris Glendening to pick a chief for the Maryland Court of Appeals based on race. That would be a mistake. This is one appointment where legal skills, temperament and management abilities are paramount. Politics should be firmly set aside.

It will be tough to do. Mr. Glendening is very much a political animal. Two groups that are important to him are women and blacks. Not coincidentally, two of the three people often mentioned for the post come from those groups. More than a few black politicians have told Mr. Glendening whom to pick.

Will he take the political route on this appointment? Even Mr. Mandel, a politician to the core, set aside politics when he replaced retiring Chief Judge Hall Hammond in 1972. It was that important. He elevated Mr. Murphy, then chief of the second-highest panel, the Court of Special Appeals.

Mr. Murphy proved a first-rate choice. Maryland's judiciary has flourished, even as it has ballooned in size. The appeals courts are among the best in the nation. There have been no major scandals, no management snafus during Judge Murphy's 24-year stewardship.

The main duties of the chief judge these days are administrative. Under his control are two appellate courts, an eight-circuit trial court system and a 12-district court system for lesser offenses, whose chief judge is appointed by the Court of Appeals' chief -- not the governor.

Robert F. Sweeney, who has led the District Court since its inception in 1971, is also retiring this fall. Will Governor Glendening get involved in that appointment, too?

We hope not. It would be improper to intervene in any way. That decision must come from the leader of the state's judicial branch, not from the executive branch. The governor has enough on his plate already.

In his search for a new chief judge for the Court of Appeals, Mr. Glendening should ignore pleas from political constituencies. He needs to find the best-qualified candidate to run Maryland's court system. Period.

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