Minorities nominated for judge Commission choices for District bench are contrast to first list

Activists praise picks

Glendening aide says appointment to come after Assembly ends

February 07, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Howard County's judicial nominating commission submitted a list of four candidates -- three African-Americans and one white woman -- to Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to consider in filling a vacancy on the county's District Court bench, now composed of three white males.

The commission's new choices contrast starkly with its last group of nominees, seven candidates that included only one African-American.

Howard's District Court has never had a black judge. Since appointed Judge Donna Hill Staton's ouster from the Circuit Court by voters last November, activists have insisted that the governor appoint an African-American to the District bench.

The shift by the commission was met yesterday with praise from black activists.

"We are pleased those individuals were recommended to the governor by the commission, but it's premature elation," said the Rev. Robert A. F. Turner, leading the lobbying for a black district judge. "Our satisfaction will be taken to a higher level once an African-American is appointed to the bench.

"Our satisfaction will exceed that when Howard County becomes inclusive enough to be able to elect an African-American to the bench," he added.

The four new nominees will be added to the remaining five nominees from the last pool, whose names were sent to Glendening in August. Columbia attorney Neil Edward Axel, who is white, was selected by the governor from the last list and sworn in Tuesday.

Glendening can select the new district judge from either list or ignore both of them. A Glendening spokesman said the appointment won't be made until the General Assembly's legislative session ends April 7.

"We just made a Howard County appointment," said spokesman Raymond C. Feldmann, referring to Axel. "Now the governor wants to focus on his legislative agenda."

Judge James N. Vaughan, administrative judge for Howard and Carroll counties' District courts, said he has heard there will be a wait for the final appointment to the four-member bench.

"It's the governor's call, and I have no quarrel with that," Vaughan said, adding that the court will continue using visiting judges until it is up to full strength.

Axel's appointment renewed the simmering issue of diversity in Howard's judiciary.

Leaders of a coalition of black interest groups have been publicly lobbying for an African-American to fill one of two vacancies.

One of the District Court vacancies was created by the retirement of Judge R. Russell Sadler.

The other came about when Judge Lenore R. Gelfman rose to the Circuit Court after defeating Hill Staton, the county's first black judge, in November's bitter election that racially polarized Howard.

The Howard County African American Coalition -- which represents 50 area groups -- lobbied for one African-American, Alice Gail Pollard Clark, 56, an assistant public defender in Howard County for five years. She also has been championed by Del. Frank S. Turner.

When the Howard County Bar Association's judicial selection committee -- which essentially serves as a guide for bar members -- reviewed the applicants, Clark received nine votes of "highly recommend," more than any of the nine applicants.

Turner, president of the African American Coalition has contacted the governor's office and written a letter to Columbia attorney David A. Carney, head of the judicial nominating commission, endorsing public defender Clark.

Along with Clark, the list submitted to Glendening yesterday includes:

Cornelia Bright Gordon, 41, an administrative law judge with the state office of administrative hearings, part of the executive branch.

Sue-Ellen Hantman, 51, a prosecutor in the state's attorney's office from 1980 to 1989 and since 1995. She was defeated in the 1994 Democratic primary race for county executive.

Lonnie Roscellus Robbins, 46, a senior assistant county solicitor with the county's Office of Law. Robbins is counsel to the TTC

county's Ethics Commission and Office of Purchasing. He is co-counsel for the Board of Appeals and the County Council.

The 13-member judicial nominating commission met Wednesday to interview the candidates for the vacancy.

Five candidates from the first list of seven nominees will remain eligible for consideration by the governor in making the second Howard District Court appointment.

They are:

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

Pamila Junette Brown, 42, who is an assistant state attorney general in the tort claims unit. She was the only African-American on this list.

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

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

Michael Allen Weal, 51, a senior assistant state's attorney who has worked in that office for 20 years.

Bernard A. Raum, 52, a master in chancery for the Howard Circuit Court since 1981 who applied for the first vacancy, withdrew his name from consideration for the second one because he's applying for a seat on the Court of Special Appeals.

"When you combine the two lists, you have a very diverse group of men, women and minorities," Turner said. "I don't think anyone would have made that list unless he or she was qualified to be a judge."

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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