Another judgment for Howard bench Race, gender again will be factors for Glendening in court appointment.

August 13, 1996

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING sought to right generations of wrong last year when he named two women, one an African American, to judgeships on Howard County's circuit court. Until then no African American or woman had sat on the county's highest bench in its 129-year history. The selection of Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton were giant steps toward correcting a discriminatory past without sacrificing quality.

But uncertainty regarding the future of the Circuit Court again has brought affirmative action to the fore in the judicial selection process as the county looks for a successor to retiring District Court Judge R. Russell Sadler. There are good reasons why race and gender must be considered here.

First, like the Circuit Court before Judge Hill Staton, there has never been an African-American judge on the four-judge district court. Second, among the list of 16 lawyers who applied for the judgeship are five African Americans and seven women who deserve consideration because they are credible candidates.

Third, Judges Hill Staton and Leasure are being challenged by two strong contenders for the bench who were bypassed by Governor Glendening when he made the historic selections. If one or both of the appointees loses in the November general election, the county's bench could be without an African American judge and would have only one female judge. This scenario would give the county's bench the appearance that it has lost step with time.

At the same time there are other candidates with good credentials, some of whom have applied for previous judicial vacancies.

Mr. Glendening has time to make his decision. Before he appoints someone to the 10-year term, the county's 13-member Judicial Nominating Commission will screen the applicants. The commission will interview the candidates next month and recommend a handful of names to the governor. A diverse group of qualified nominees should emerge.

As with the Circuit Court appointments, quality should be the foremost consideration. But Mr. Glendening would be wise to delay action on the District Court appointments until after the November election, when he can determine whether affirmative action should be part of the equation.

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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