Amid some political furor, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge William D. Quarles appears headed toward becoming President George W. Bush's first appointment to Maryland's federal bench.
The uproar is not about the judge's qualifications, but rather the way in which the pending nomination was announced by state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who sent out a news release without Quarles' knowledge.
Quarles' pending nomination was at the urging of Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican front-runner for governor. A spokesman in his office said yesterday that Ehrlich suggested Quarles for the appointment. He must be cleared by a routine background check before being presented to the Senate for approval.
But it was Mitchell who announced the pending nomination in a news release this week without first alerting Ehrlich and Quarles.
The latter intimated that Mitchell was politicizing his nomination. "It is inappropriate for anyone to try to take political advantage of a judicial office," said Quarles, 54. "I hope no one, no matter how peripherally involved in the process, would attempt to politicize any judicial office."
Quarles said he had no comment on the pending nomination. "Nothing has happened that would merit an announcement of any sort," he said.
Mitchell, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, sent out the announcement about Quarles in a statement of support for Ehrlich. The statement said he supports Ehrlich for backing Quarles.
Mitchell, a lifelong Democrat who comes from a politically connected family, recently endorsed Ehrlich. He did it amid a months-long feud with other Democrats surrounding a redistricting plan that could have put the state senator's political career in peril.
The endorsement also occurred as the state prosecutor investigates Mitchell's acceptance of a $10,000 loan from businessmen who had issues before the General Assembly. In February, the Assembly's ethics committee reprimanded Mitchell for failing to report the loan - on which the senator had made no payments since receiving it five years ago. When asked what kind of relationship Quarles has with Mitchell, the Republican judge responded: "None. I know who he is."
But Quarles knew Mitchell's father, Clarence M. Mitchell III. In the 1980s, Quarles was part of the federal prosecution team that helped convict the elder Mitchell on federal corruption charges and landed him in prison.
The elder Mitchell, with his brother, former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell, was convicted in 1987 in U.S District Court of trying to impede a congressional investigation into Wedtech Corp., a minority run defense contractor in the Bronx, N.Y.
Clarence M. Mitchell III was given a 2 1/2 -year sentence in the Wedtech case. He was given another two years for trying to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation of drug dealer Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams.
In addition to being a former federal prosecutor, Quarles also was a partner at the law firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard.
He grew up in Baltimore, attended City College and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1976. He earned a law degree from The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in 1979.
This is Quarles second nomination to the federal bench. In 1992, he was tapped by President George Bush, but was never appointed. He got caught in a numbers game during the closing weeks of the Senate's session. In September, there were 50 federal judicial nominees waiting to be confirmed by the Senate, but time permitted only 16 to move forward.