State prosecutor to review judicial race

March 09, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The defeat of a sitting Baltimore County judge in Tuesday's primary -- the first since 1938 -- has prompted a review by the state prosecutor, a spat between two lawmakers in Annapolis and regret in the courthouse where the new judge will work.

Judge Alexander Wright Jr. lost on both the Democratic and Republican ballots to Judge Kathleen Cox, a recent appointee to the Circuit Court, and District Judge Robert N. Dugan, who decided to run after he was passed over with Cox's appointment.

State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is investigating reports that some campaign workers in Baltimore County were paid to distribute fliers in Tuesday's primary, in violation of state law.

Montanarelli said yesterday that he is reviewing reports that campaign workers at polling places in predominantly African-American neighborhoods on Baltimore County's west side were paid up to $25 each to distribute fliers printed by state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV's campaign committee.

The flier asked voters to support Dugan and Wright, even though Wright -- who is black -- ran on a joint ticket with Cox.

Wright said the flier was printed without his knowledge and that he learned about it when he worked the polls on Election Day. He said he asked workers to stop distributing the fliers, and they told him they were being paid by the Mitchell organization.

The flier carried "Friends of Clarence M. Mitchell IV" as its authority. Mitchell yesterday denied paying workers for their help on primary election day.

In a prepared statement, Mitchell said that he agreed to support Dugan because the 58-year-old Republican is a longtime family friend who worked years ago with Mitchell's grandmother, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, and his uncle, Michael Mitchell Sr.

Mitchell said he included Wright on his flier because he wanted to support "two people who have a longtime track record of working with and being fair to the African-American community," according to the statement.

But Mitchell's efforts angered state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, the 10th-District Democrat who backed Wright and whose district includes the polling places covered by Mitchell's workers.

Kelley, who confronted Mitchell in Annapolis Tuesday, called Mitchell's actions "stupid."

"I just wouldn't think of going into any other senator's district and trying to influence an election that I was not involved in," Kelley said. "I just thought it was the height of arrogance on his part."

Mitchell's use of African-American campaign workers to distribute the Wright-Dugan flier in African-American neighborhoods ended up hurting Wright's election chances, she said.

It helped Dugan win support -- and pull ahead on the Democratic ballot -- in communities where he otherwise would have received few votes, she said.

"Race is definitely a factor here," Kelley said. "We'd be foolhardy to say it wasn't."

Mitchell wrote a letter to Kelley after she confronted him, apologizing "for the lack of respect that I offered to you on this election day ballot issue."

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