He'll make several enemies and one ingrate

July 07, 1996|By BARRY RASCOVAR

THE SUMMER LULL belies what Maryland's governor confronts when cooler weather arrives. Then Parris Glendening must make his most important appointment this term.

Filling vacancies can be perilous for a governor. For every happy nominee, there are numerous disappointed applicants. You make more enemies than friends.

Patronage posts in Maryland are no longer a big deal. Few pay handsomely. Civil-service laws now cover most government jobs.

Except in the judiciary. The governor names dozens of judges each year with salaries ranging from $89,200 to $124,500. Yet politics usually isn't as crucial as temperament and legal skills.

It's been that way since the state's courts underwent modernization in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. A succession of governors opted for judges with good legal minds and sound demeanor. Few hacks or ideologues were picked.

Jovial Irishman

It's a pretty sound system, due in large part to the firm but fatherly guidance of its chief judge and jovial Irishman, Robert C. Murphy. He's been there since the creation of the modern Maryland court system, first heading the new Court of Special Appeals, then the Court of Appeals. He runs the bureaucracy, handles internal disputes, juggles workload calendars and acts as the court's lobbyist.

Mr. Murphy reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 this fall. Finding a successor will put the governor to the test.

Some groups are pushing for Judge Robet M. Bell of the Court of Appeals. Both the AFL-CIO and prominent political guru Larry S. Gibson have told Mr. Glendening to pick Judge Bell. He is black and the courts most liberal member.

There's no question of Mr. Bell's judicial intellect or his long experience on all four state courts. His administrative and management abilities are unknown.

That's a concern: The job entails running a bureaucracy of 2,900 people, managing a $175 million budget and mediating personality disputes and polar opposite desires of strong-willed judges.

There's also the lobbying requirement. Mr. Bell has been a professional judge, starting at age 32. He's never had to deal much with legislators and governors.

Bob Murphy came to the bench with a wealth of administrative and lobbying experience, having the attorney general's office -- legal adviser, manger, policy-maker and State House negotiator.

A risky choice

For Mr. Glendening, choosing Mr. Bell is risky. It reinforces the notion he's in the pocket of monorities and labor unions. While it would please groups that are already in his corner, it could offend moderate and consevative Democrats he badly needs in 1998.

There are other options. The governor might name Judge Irma S. Raker of the Court of Appeals, which would please women's groups and voters in pivotal Montgomery County. But again, this would give the impression of catering to liberal interests.

He could turn to Alan M. Wilner, chief of the Court of Special Appeals an administrator and gifted legal writer who knows his way around Annapolis. This pick could also lead to a string of judicial vacancies-as many of four.

Or he could pick an outsider. Some court-watchers say the state judiciary is too insular. Any internal appointment will trigger backbiting and factional feuds.

Here are three outside possibilities: Attorney General Joseph Curran, former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti and

former U.S. Attorney George Beall.

All-stars

They're all-stars. They love the law, have run large legal offices, have dealt with legislatures and chief executives, and have watched the state court system operate for decades.

Mr. Curran is decent and likable but agonizes over small decisions. His selection might be viewed as too political. It would trigger a scramble in the attorney general's race in 1998, which doesn't help Mr. Glendening.

Mr. Beall would give the governor something to crow about. He's renowned for his work as U.S. attorney and as managing partner of a major Baltimore law firm. He's from a prominent Republican family. The governor would win praise for a nonpartisan selection. It would encourage moderate Republicans to look more favorably on Mr. Glendening.

The most advantageous pick could be Mr. Civiletti. What a public-relations coup! He has the biggest legal name in Maryland. He's run the Justice Department and one of the state's largest and oldest law firms. He's a major civic player in Baltimore and a heavyweight lawyer. He's advised a president and politicked with Congress.

Mr. Glendening isn't likely to get another chance to name a chief judge. Playing blatant politics would be a huge mistake-for his HTC own re-election chances and for the state's judiciary.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub date 7/07/96

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