Sfekas settles into judgeship

Appointee praised for common sense

May 28, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Constantine James "Kit" Sfekas has been a Howard County District Court judge for less than five months, but he has already experienced the toughest part of his job: sentencing defendants to jail.

"I have the authority and power to take people's freedom away," said Sfekas, 46. "It's difficult to imagine. I take it seriously."

Sfekas, who was appointed in November, said he is getting used to his job and finds himself asking attorneys lots of questions and reviewing law books. He also tries to make his courtroom seem welcoming.

"Sometimes, this is the only contact between [people] and the court system," said Sfekas, who was appointed to a 10-year term. "This is what they think the system is like."

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they like Sfekas' mix of common sense, patience and affability.

"He's legally savvy and street-wise," said defense attorney Daniel Vaccaro. "He lets people feel like they've had their day in court."

But "the jury is still out, so to speak," on how well Sfekas will handle the job, said an assistant state's attorney who asked not be identified.

Sfekas was appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to become Howard's fifth district judge. With four chambers at the Ellicott City District Courthouse, administrators put Sfekas in a former kitchen, which he has decorated with photos of his wife and two daughters.

On his desk are two compact discs -- one by the Village People and the other by the Allman Brothers Band -- that Sfekas says demonstrate his eclectic tastes.

Sfekas said he tries to balance the need for justice and the need to get help for people. With so many defendants committing crimes to satisfy addictions, Sfekas said, counseling and drug treatment play a prominent role in his sentencing.

"I try to give a sentence that makes sense," Sfekas said. "I try to make sure [defendants] get evaluated."

Sfekas also tries to keep his traffic court lighthearted. The other morning, a woman ticketed for speeding said she wanted to recognize the Howard County police officer for being so polite and courteous.

Sfekas seized the opportunity. "Let's all recognize" the officer, he told his packed courtroom. Nearly everyone laughed.

"Traffic court, that's the only time where I allow humor in," he said. "It's still a formal setting."

Defense attorneys and prosecutors said one of Sfekas' greatest strengths is his ability to listen and ask questions before making a decision. Sfekas said he learned that from his father.

On a table in his office sits a small plaque that his father gave him. It reads: "Beware the fury of a patient man."

Born in 1953, Sfekas grew up in Baltimore, almost in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, and remembers waiting on Sundays to find out whether relatives had an extra ticket to watch the Colts play.

He graduated from City College in 1970 and Georgetown University in 1974, got a master's degree in education from American University and graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1981.

After working for medium-sized law firms specializing in such complex cases as medical malpractice, Sfekas become a private attorney in 1987.

Sfekas had applied twice before to become a judge, and he declined to reveal ambitions.

"The people that were selected were friends of mine," he said. "I wasn't all that upset about it. I obviously wanted to get it."

A few attorneys said they think Sfekas has sided with prosecutors too often.

"I don't know about that," Sfekas said. "Some say I'm too defense-oriented. Others say I'm too state-oriented. Maybe that means I'm doing a good job, somewhere down the middle."

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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