New seat possible for Wright

Glendening wants judge to consider District Court

March 17, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's first black Circuit Court judge, Judge Alexander Wright Jr., who was defeated in a bid to keep his seat in the March 7 primary election, may be appointed to a District Court judgeship by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Glendening, who has emphasized a need for more black and female judges, considers Wright a "stellar" judge and has been deluged with questions about him since Wright finished third among three judges running for two seats on the county Circuit Court two weeks ago.

Glendening discussed Wright's loss with the county's Senate delegation March 9, reviewed Wright's record and discussed his career in a telephone chat with the judge last week, according to Michael Morrill, a Glendening spokesman.

"People have been coming up to the governor and asking about Judge Wright all week," Morrill said.

In a race that has prompted a review by the state prosecutor, Circuit Judge Kathleen Cox and District Judge Robert N. Dugan were elected in the primary on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. Wright was the first sitting judge in the county to lose an election since 1938.

Morrill said that Glendening is convinced he made the right move in appointing Wright to the District Court in 1993 and to the Circuit Court in 1998. Circuit Court judgeships pay $110,500, while District Court posts pay $103,000.

But Morrill said Wright must formally submit his name and go through the same series of interviews as other candidates if he wants to be named to one of the two Baltimore County District Court judgeships expected to open up by the end of the year.

"If Judge Wright makes the decision that he wants to apply, he would make a stellar candidate. But at this point, no firm offer has been extended and no specific interest expressed by the judge," Morrill said.

Wright, who became the first black judge on the county's 16-member Circuit Court bench, said that he is considering applying for the position.

"I'd have to go through the process, but I'd be willing to go through the process again," said Wright, 50. "It's a strong possibility."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is investigating reports that campaign workers supporting Dugan were paid for their election day efforts, which would violate state laws.

Montanarelli has collected lists of campaign volunteers, interviewed workers and reviewed results of the race, according to those interviewed.

Wright, along with others, said that campaign workers supporting Dugan told him at several polling places on election day that they were being paid $25 for their efforts. The workers distributed fliers at predominantly black polling places asking voters to support a supposed Dugan-Wright ticket.

Wright, who had joined with Cox in a campaign against Dugan, said that Dugan never approached him about the flier.

Wright said that when he told campaign workers that he had not authorized the flier, some of them stopped distributing it, but others did not.

"They said they wouldn't stop because then they wouldn't get paid," Wright said.

The fliers carried a "Friends of Clarence Mitchell IV" authority line.

Mitchell, a West Baltimore Democrat, acknowledged putting out the flier, saying he wanted to see Dugan and Wright elected because of their service to the black community. But he flatly denied paying any campaign workers. A Mitchell worker interviewed while circulating the flier on election day also denied being paid.

Wright said yesterday that he is unsure if the flier cost him the election by winning more black votes for Dugan.

But several of Wright's supporters say it may have made a difference by making African-American voters think that Dugan, a 58-year-old white Republican from Sparks, was campaigning with a black running mate.

"He had a right to have somebody out there, but he didn't have a right to ride on Judge Wright's back like that," said Stacy Rodgers, a Pikesville Democrat who coordinated poll workers for the Cox-Wright ticket on the county's west side.

Montanarelli declined to comment on the investigation yesterday.

Wright and Rodgers said Montanarelli's office contacted them this week. Rodgers said she provided investigators with a list of her volunteers who worked for the Wright-Cox ticket at polling places in the Randallstown and Pikesville area.

Patrick Feeney, an assistant state's attorney who worked on Wright's campaign, said that he also provided Montanarelli with a list of about 40 Wright-Cox volunteers who worked the polls in the Catonsville area.

Rodgers said she told Montanarelli that several Mitchell campaign workers acknowledged being paid to distribute the flier. But neither Rodgers nor Wright collected names of any of the Mitchell campaign workers, they said.

"I wasn't out there trying to build a case. I was trying to save an election," Wright said.

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