Dugan sees circuit judge race as `uphill fight'

District judge challenges incumbents Wright, Cox

March 02, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

District Judge Robert N. Dugan knows that history is not on his side.

Dugan is running for circuit judge in Baltimore County, where a sitting judge hasn't lost since 1938.

"I have no illusions, this is an uphill fight," Dugan said.

He is one of three judges running for two seats. His opponents, Judge Alexander Wright Jr. and Judge Kathleen Cox, were appointed in recent years by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Wright became the first African-American on the county's 16-member Circuit Court when he was sworn in to a judgeship created by the General Assembly in June 1998. Cox became the second woman when she replaced a judge who retired in February last year.

Observers say the campaigns have been cordial, in contrast to the 1996 race in Howard County in which Glendening appointee Donna Hill Staton, the county's first black circuit judge, lost her seat.

"I don't think there are the same concerns in Baltimore County. There's no controversy about any of these judges, and I don't think there's any of the personal contentions that there may have been in Howard County," said John J. Nagle III, president-elect of the 1,400-member Baltimore County Bar Association.

All three candidates have cross-filed as Democrats and Republicans. The two who receive the most votes on the Democratic and Republican primary ballots will run in the general election. That means all three judges could survive the primary and run in November.

Cox and Wright are running as a team and plan to spend about $120,000 on the race. Dugan says he will spend about $50,000.

Dugan, a registered Republican, said he is running because he feels he's the best candidate and because the Democratic governor has shut out the GOP in his judicial appointments. He mentioned statistics recently gathered by state Republican officials showing that, of the 60 judges Glendening has appointed the past two years, two have been Republicans.

"You might as well have a sign on the State House, `No Republicans need apply,' " said Dugan, 58, of Sparks.

A former FBI agent and assistant state's attorney, Dugan was appointed as a county Circuit Court domestic court master in 1984. He served in that post until he was appointed to the District Court in 1993.

Wright, who worked alongside Dugan when they served on the District Court bench, said, "As a former colleague of his, I was disappointed and surprised" at Dugan's decision to run.

Wright, 50, of Reisterstown, served on the District Court for five years before he was appointed 18 months ago to the Circuit Court.

"I've done a good job, people tell me I've done a good job, and between my work on the District Court and the Circuit Court, I've been doing it for seven years," Wright said.

Before becoming a judge, Wright worked 13 years for the state attorney general's office, serving as counsel to the state courts and as principal counsel to various state agencies.

He also was an assistant public defender in Baltimore County and worked for a private law firm for four years before he joined the attorney general's staff in 1979.

Cox, 45, of Cockeysville was in private practice from 1982 until her appointment last year.

She presided over 30 to 40 jury trials and handled a number of civil and criminal cases before she agreed Oct. 1 to begin serving in the county Circuit Court's family division.

Cox was a partner for 10 years with the firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard, supervising the firm's Towson litigation and chairing the personnel committee responsible for hiring and training staff.

She also served as an assistant federal public defender in Baltimore for three years.

"I think that we've been here long enough that people are comfortable with what we're doing," Cox said. "The important thing now is to get the message out."

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