U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia, who has overseen federal prosecutions in Maryland since 1993, was named yesterday to fill an open judgeship on the state's highest court.
Battaglia, 54, fills the vacancy on the Maryland Court of Appeals left by the retirement last month of Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky. She would be the second woman on the seven-member bench and only the third woman to serve on the high court.
In announcing the nomination yesterday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening praised Battaglia's legal skills and said she had "opened new doors of opportunity" as the first woman to serve as Maryland's top federal prosecutor.
"Lynne Battaglia has dedicated both her career and her life to the pursuit of justice," Glendening said. "She is driven by her genuine belief that the law can make a real difference in the lives of people."
Battaglia, who indicated her interest in the job months ago, was one of five candidates for the $126,500- a-year position. Her nomination to the post must be confirmed by the Maryland Senate.
She was widely considered to be the front-runner. A former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Battaglia is well-known in Democratic circles and in the state's legal community.
The court vacancy also coincided with the close of Battaglia's term as Maryland's U.S. attorney. She was nominated by President Clinton in August 1993 and served in the post for the remainder of his two terms in the White House. She said earlier this year that she would not seek to stay in the U.S. attorney's job even if Democrat Al Gore won the presidency.
Battaglia, who lives in Howard County, said yesterday that she has aspired to serve on the bench since her earliest days in law school.
"I love being a lawyer, and I think that it's one of the highest and best callings," Battaglia said. "I've been intensely interested in the law, and I see a judge as really being able to deliberate and be concerned about the development of the law."
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell said Battaglia would be a welcome addition to the state's high court. "Ms. Battaglia's contributions to the state of Maryland have been exemplary, and her credentials are outstanding," Bell said.
Before serving as Mikulski's top aide from 1991 to 1993, Battaglia directed the Maryland attorney general's criminal investigations unit.
She previously served as a senior trial attorney with the Justice Department's Office of Special Litigation and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore. Battaglia is a 1974 graduate of the University of Maryland law school, where she is a visiting professor.
Her most visible post, though, has been as Maryland's U.S. attorney. Under Battaglia, the office has pursued a number of white-collar investigations, winning high-profile convictions against two Maryland lobbyists, Bruce C. Bereano and Gerard E. Evans.
Her office has also targeted Internet child pornography and pursued criminal prosecutions aimed at weakening Baltimore's violent drug trade.
In the past year, Battaglia had come under fire from some Maryland Republicans - most vocally U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of the 2nd District, who said she had not been aggressive enough in enforcing federal firearm laws that prohibit felons from carrying guns.
Battaglia defended her approach, saying her signature "Project Disarm" program had helped make Baltimore safer.
The flap with Ehrlich, however, highlighted criticism that Battaglia was overly political in her job. The top agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's Baltimore office said in a sworn statement in the summer that Battaglia had dropped Mikulski's name and threatened his job during her running feud with Ehrlich - something Battaglia denied.
Battaglia was criticized by a federal appeals panel two years ago for failing to provide the government's position on a politically sensitive affirmative action question.
In recent months, some questioned her hiring of Andrea Leahy-Fucheck, a former staff attorney for Glendening who helped the governor review judicial candidates.
Battaglia said yesterday that questions about her political motives undermine her professional history, where she said she never put politics first.
"I've tried to reflect in the work I've done that political persuasion didn't matter in terms of who we hired or who we prosecuted," Battaglia said.
The other applicants considered by Glendening were Dennis M. Sweeney, a circuit judge in Howard County; Julia Doyle Bernhardt, an appellate attorney with the state Public Defender's office; M. Albert Figinski, a prominent Baltimore trial lawyer and former city circuit judge; and Andrew D. Levy, a Baltimore attorney known for his advocacy work for the disabled.
The woman on the court is Judge Irma S. Raker, who was appointed in 1994.
The first woman to serve on the court was Rita C. Davidson, who died in 1984.
Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.