An ugly process

Elections: Judicial decorum goes out the window when it comes to waging a political campaign.

March 09, 2000

PASSING OUT "walking around money" and printing up phony campaign handouts used to typify election days in Baltimore's club-dominated neighborhoods.

This week, the same cheap tricks cropped up in African-American precincts of Baltimore County, resulting in the defeat of Judge Alexander Wright Jr., the first black to sit on the county's Circuit Court.

By every measure, Judge Wright deserved to retain his seat. He has been an able and fair jurist, respected by lawyers who have appeared before him.

Nonetheless, he lost for two reasons unrelated to his performance on the bench: ballot position and dirty tricks.

Judge Wright suffered because the alphabetical listing put him third behind Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Cox and challenger District Court Judge Robert Dugan. Voters could only vote for two of the three candidates.

More troubling, however, was the tactic of passing out bogus election fliers -- in predominantly black precincts -- that implied Judge Wright and Judge Dugan were running mates. They weren't; in fact, Judge Wright shared a campaign fund and a Web site with Judge Cox.

Judge Wright believes the fliers hurt him in the three-person race. Whether he's right doesn't matter; these win-at-all-cost tactics have no place in a contest to decide who will mete out justice in the people's courts.

Such dirty tricks may be the best argument yet for scrapping the current system of contested elections for Maryland's circuit courts.

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