Committee suggests 4 for new judgeship on the District Court Position may increase diversity as it reduces increased caseloads

October 01, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The Howard County District Court is one step closer to getting a fifth judge to deal with a burgeoning caseload.

Yesterday, a 13-member judicial nominating committee submitted the names of four candidates to the governor: Pamila Junette Brown, counsel to the state Department of General Services since 1990; Cornielia Bright Gordon, a state administrative law judge; Constantine James Sfekas, a lawyer in Ellicott City; and Michael A. Weal, an assistant state's attorney.

All four have previously applied for a judgeship. There is no deadline for the governor to choose a judge, but most legal experts say it is unlikely he will act before the Nov. 3 election.

Since a bitter election for Circuit Court two years ago that polarized the legal community, several local black leaders have been pushing for more minority representation on the bench.

Alice Gail Pollard Clark, who was appointed last year to the District Court, is the only African-American among nine circuit and district judges. Gordon and Brown are African-Americans.

"There is a need to have additional diversity on the bench in Howard County," said Sherman Howell, a vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County. He criticized a 50-year-old Confederate monument outside the Howard County Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City that was rededicated last weekend, calling it a "Monument of [Slave] Traders," and said having it "in front of the halls of justice tells you that we need to have more of a minority presence" on the bench.

Doris Ligon, a member of the county's judicial nominating

committee, cautioned that a judge should not be chosen simply because of the candidate's race.

"Just to say we have a minority on the bench is not enough," Ligon said. "A black or a woman in the judgeship does not guarantee anything. We need the person who will be fair and just."

The District Court has had four judges since 1989. In the past few years, judges and administrators say, the caseload has skyrocketed.

In fiscal 1997, Howard's District Court judges handled 22,092 cases each, compared with a statewide average of 20,628 cases per judge, according to the state.

A state report says the caseload of motor vehicle, criminal and civil cases in Howard County rose from about 87,400 in fiscal 1996 to more than 103,000 cases last year. The current caseload exceeds projections for 2000.

The four candidates were selected from 11 applicants, who included James F. Brewer, Sue Ellen Hantman, Robert Norman Keehner, Mary Catherine O'Donnell, George Edwin Rippel Jr., Ann Elizabeth Singleton and David A. Titman.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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