Judge hopefuls stand on records

Five varied candidates vie for three seats on county Circuit Court

August 19, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The five candidates running for the three seats open on the Baltimore County Circuit Court this fall are emphasizing the same theme: experience.

But beyond that - and the fact that they all have law degrees - they couldn't be more different.

There is Allan P. Feigelson, 56, of Owings Mills, whose office is in the Laurel area of Prince George's County and whose practice has been limited chiefly to banking and real estate cases. He is little-known among Baltimore County's legal establishment but is emphasizing his 29 years as a lawyer.

Patrick Cavanaugh, 58, of Timonium, is better-known, has been a finalist for judgeships in the past and has handled everything from criminal work to contract disputes from his office in Dundalk. He is emphasizing his 28 years' experience.

Incumbents join forces

Then there is the team of incumbent judges Michael J. Finifter, Ruth A. Jakubowski and Alexander Wright Jr.

Running together as "the sitting judges," they are emphasizing their experience, having been appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening after a series of interviews and a review of their credentials by the county Judicial Nominating Commission, a 13-member panel of lawyers and nonlawyers.

"There's a really rigorous process to being appointed, and a lot of people don't realize that," said Jakubowski, 49, of Pikesville.

15-year terms

Under Maryland law, Circuit Court judges must run for 15-year terms in the elections held at least a year after the vacancy is created. County circuit judges Susan M. Souder and Vicki Ballou-Watts, who were appointed this year, will run in 2004 with two incumbents, Judge Dana M. Levitz and Chief Judge John G. Turnbull II, whose 15-year terms are due to expire.

The position pays $119,600 a year.

All five candidates in this year's race have cross-filed in both Democratic and Republican primaries Sept. 10. That means the three candidates with the most Democratic votes will run in the Nov. 5 general election against whichever candidates finish among the top three on the Republican side. If the same three candidates win the top three positions on both ballots, there will be no contest in November.

Financial advantage

The sitting judges have the most campaign money and have been campaigning together since May, when Finifter and Jakubowski were sworn in.

Before her appointment, Jakubowski had been in private practice since 1978 and was a partner and a managing partner for a mid-size law firm. She specialized in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

Finifter, 45, of Owings Mills, is a lawyer and a certified public accountant who has been in practice since 1982. He was elected as a Democratic member of the House of Delegates in 1994 and represented the 11th District until he was appointed to the bench by Glendening.

Wright, 52, of Glyndon, has been a judge for nine years and is in his second bid for a 15-year term on the Circuit Court.

He was appointed to the District Court in 1993 and was appointed to the Circuit Court for the first time in 1998. But he finished third in a race for two seats in the March 2000 primary. Glendening reappointed him when a vacancy opened in January last year.

Wright said that in this election, he and the other two incumbents are working "three times harder."

They have gone door to door together, planted campaign signs throughout the county and plan to have at least three volunteers handing out brochures Sept. 10 at each of the 187 polling places in the county.

The sitting judges have a combined campaign fund of $46,266, according to the reports this month with the state Board of Elections. In contrast, Cavanaugh has $29,080 and Feigelson has $3,500.

Cavanaugh and Feigelson acknowledge that they face an uphill battle.

"It's a David-and-Goliath type situation," Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh says he has a network of more than 100 relatives and friends who have volunteered to help him. He also has held two fund-raisers, has 800 campaign signs scattered across the county and has ordered hundreds more.

Cavanaugh made the Judicial Nominating Commission's short list for District Court judgeship in the late 1980s, but was never appointed by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"I wasn't political enough," he said.

Politics in process

But he is emphasizing - in appearances before political and civic groups - that he thinks Glendening has injected too much politics into the appointment process.

Glendening, who promotes his record on minority and female judicial appointments, publicly criticized the county's legal establishment in 2000 for failing to encourage more women and minorities to apply for judgeships.

Cavanaugh declined to criticize specific appointments last week, but criticized Glendening for emphasizing "diversity over ability" in his judicial appointments and for wresting control of the Judicial Nominating Commission from the Baltimore County Bar Association. Glendening insisted on appointing nine members to the commission, leaving the county bar to elect four instead of six members, he said.

"I think he's made some bad appointments and I think a lot of people would agree with that," Cavanaugh said.

Feigelson is not as outspoken, or as active a campaigner.

He said the race might cost him $10,000 and that he is not actively raising funds or seeking speaking engagements. His wife is his campaign manager and he has only one appearance planned for this week, before a volunteer firefighters group in Middle River.

"I have no experience in the political arena," he said. "We're just kind of feeling our way through and doing the best we can."

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