Judicial list of finalists Howard County: Roster of District judge nominees lacks diversity, but should stand.

September 25, 1996

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING should not reject a judicial selection panel's list of nominees for a vacancy on Howard County's District Court. The governor acted properly last year in throwing out a list of Circuit Court nominees that omitted African-Americans, but a replay is not in order this time.

Mr. Glendening's rejection of last year's list was aimed at meeting a conspicuous need on a bench in a diverse metropolitan county that had never had a woman or a minority judge. The first list he received contained no black nominees. From the second list, he appointed Howard Circuit Court's first African-American judge to accompany his selection of the bench's first female judge. The appointees brought diversity and backgrounds in complex civil litigation that had been lacking.

But the odds for greater diversity grew slim last week when the state Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County released its list of seven nominees to fill the District Court seat vacated by retired Judge R. Russell Sadler. Although the 16 lawyers applying for the judgeship included seven women and five African-Americans, white males dominated the list: Five of the six white males who applied were nominated; the remaining two slots went to a white female and a black female.

Unfortunately, talented African-Americans such as Alice Gail Clark, a public defender, and James Henson, the county's human rights administrator, did not make the cut. Ms. Clark was considered by peers in the legal community to be one of the stronger candidates. Many also expected Mr. Henson to be on the list, although his chances were hurt by his lack of litigation experience. Another surprise was the omission of Sue Ellen Hantman, an assistant state's attorney, who scored high marks from a Howard County Bar Association panel.

A county Women's Bar Association official said the results hurt female lawyers. The African American Coalition of Howard County went further, asking the governor to reject the list. Indeed, qualified women and minority candidates seem to have been overlooked and black male candidates omitted.

Yet the list remains broad-based enough to give the governor the flexibility he needs in making the final selection.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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