7 lawyers proposed for seat on bench Nominating panel list for District Court slot now goes to governor

September 20, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The Howard Judicial Nominating Commission recommended seven candidates yesterday to fill a seat on the county's District Court bench, but the list sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening drew immediate criticism for not including more African-Americans and women.

From a pool of 16 applicants, the 13-member nominating commission chose two women, and one of the women is the only African-American finalist. Seven women and five blacks had applied.

The choices set the stage for familiar complaints from minority and women's groups about lack of diversity on the Howard bench.

"It's always been our contention that people use the excuse that no African-Americans applied," said the Rev. Robert Turner, leader of the African-American Coalition, which represents 50 county organizations.

Another excuse is that those who applied were not qualified, he said.

"That is not the case in Howard County," he said. "When you overlook qualifications, when you overlook competence then something is wrong."

Last night, the African-American Coalition met to decide whether to ask Glendening to reject the list of finalists. Although governors are not required to pick from the list, they usually do.

Doris Ligon, one of two African-Americans on the nominating panel, said she understood the concerns of the African-American Coalition.

"The African-American Coalition is right to be concerned, right in expressing disappointment," said Ligon. "I don't think they expected that everyone who was qualified would be chosen."

She added: "We were looking for the seven most qualified. It's a difficult thing. I don't think anyone would have wanted us to chose one or another because of ethnicity, but because of qualifications."

Glendening has said diversity on Maryland's courts is a goal of his administration. A spokesman said the governor had not seen the list of recommendations.

"He may look at it and have the same concerns, but at this point it would be premature [to comment] because he has not had a chance to review it," spokesman Raymond C. Feldmann said.

The commission recommended that the governor choose from these applicants:

Neil Edward Axel, 46, a Columbia attorney who has practiced mostly domestic law.

Dario Joseph Broccolino, 52, of Ellicott City, executive director of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association since 1988.

Pamila Junette Brown, 42, an assistant attorney general for the past nine years. The Columbia resident also is deputy counsel to the state treasurer.

Carol A. Hanson, 44, of Ellicott City, district public defender for Howard and Carroll counties.

Bernard A. Raum, 52, a master in chancery for the Howard Circuit Court since 1981.

Constantine James Sfekas, 43, of Ellicott City, who has been in private practice in Baltimore for about nine years, focusing on litigation work.

Michael Allen Weal, 50, a senior assistant state's attorney who has worked in that office 20 years.

Five African-Americans -- more than ever before -- applied for the judgeship vacated by the retirement of Judge R. Russell Sadler. Seven women put their names into the hat for the post.

Of the six white men who applied for the District Court seat, five were finalists.

Said Turner: "There are people in this county who are trying to undo what the governor did," referring to last year's appointment of judges Diane O. Leasure and Donna Hill Staton -- the county's first female and first black circuit judges.

There has never been a black district judge. Judge Lenore R. Gelfman is the first woman to sit on the District Court bench. She and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith are challenging Leasure and Hill Staton in the general election.

Local minority activists and members of the legal community said they were surprised that Alice Gail Clark, an assistant public defender in Howard County for five years and an African-American, did not make the final list.

Clark received high marks from the judicial selection committee of the county bar association, which interviewed all but two of the candidates.

Assistant State's Attorney Sue Ellen Hantman, a white woman who also received high marks from the judicial selection committee, did not make the list.

"I think it hurts us when you have seven women apply and you only have two finalists," said Columbia attorney Bobbie Fine, a past president of the Women's Bar Association.

Walter F. Closson, an assistant state's attorney who applied for the post, said it is important to have black judges to restore faith in the judicial system for the black community.

"African-Americans have gotten a negative view of the system as a whole," said Closson, who is black. "But when an African-American judge gives a similar sentence [to that of a white judge] and explains why they are doing it, that will eventually have a spillover effect."

David A. Carney, chairman of the commission that made the recommendations, said the members worked hard to send the seven most qualified candidates to the governor. He said Glendening's push for diversity does not mean there must be quotas of minorities or women appointed to the bench.

"It is not a numbers game of how many you have of African-Americans, how many you have of women," Carney said. The idea is to have judges who can understand the different issues facing different groups in society, he said.

So "black defendants and female defendants and black litigants and female litigants feel that the judge, whether it is a minority or anyone else, is sensitive to the matters that come before them," Carney said.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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