Leasure becomes chief judge of courts

She is first woman to hold the two administrative posts

January 04, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure will take over the administration of both the Fifth Judicial Circuit and Howard's Circuit Court effective today, making her the first woman to hold either post.

Leasure became the county's first female Circuit Court judge when she was appointed in 1995 and is best known for presiding over the Linda R. Tripp wiretapping case.

She replaces Anne Arundel Judge Clayton Greene Jr. as Fifth Circuit administrator and longtime Howard Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. as Howard administrator.

Greene was recently named to the Court of Special Appeals.

Kane, who has overseen the Howard court since 1991, agreed to step down effective today in accord with Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell's decision to name just one supervisory judge for each courthouse.

The Fifth Circuit includes Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.

Kane, a Circuit Court judge since 1982, said yesterday that he had considered giving up his administrative duties for awhile. Leasure's impending appointment provided an "appropriate time" to step back and enjoy just being a judge, he said.

Kane, 63, said Leasure, who graduated from law school the same year he was appointed to the Howard Circuit bench, has his "wholehearted support," and stressed that he has no immediate plans to retire.

"I enjoy what I'm doing," he said. "With no administrative responsibilities, I can focus on being a trial judge."

Leasure, 49, was one of two women appointed to the Howard bench in 1995 amid controversy over the appointment process.

After a bitterly contested election, Leasure retained her seat in 1996. The other woman, Donna Hill Staton -- the court's first black judge -- was defeated by Judge Lenore R. Gelfman.

Leasure, who spent 13 years in private practice before her appointment to the bench, has gained a reputation over the past six years as being fair, compassionate and open-minded.

"She is known for being hard-working ... very intelligent and a very tactful person," said Howard Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell.

In 1999, Leasure was asked to preside over the state's prosecution of Tripp, who was charged with violating the state's wire-tapping law when she tape recorded her conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Leasure's key ruling -- that Lewinsky's testimony in the case must be limited because of Tripp's federal immunity -- led prosecutors to drop the charges in May 2000.

Yesterday, Leasure, who is involved with numerous law-related committees and organizations in Howard County and the state, called her appointment to the administrative posts an honor and a "new challenge."

"It's really overwhelming, but I'm very excited," she said.

Kane and Greene have been excellent administrators, she added. "I have enormously large shoes to fill."

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