Critics say judge leaves incumbents' slate short

Finifter, mates defend dispersal of election funds

September 07, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

When Michael J. Finifter was named to the Baltimore County bench in April, the two-term state delegate was regarded as an experienced campaigner who could raise cash.

But Finifter's critics say that in the Circuit Court judge's race, he may be sharing his experience, but he isn't sharing enough money. That worries some lawyers who support his running mates -- Judges Ruth A. Jakubowski and Alexander Wright Jr. -- and who want to keep a woman and an African-American on the bench.

Campaign finance reports show that Finifter has $88,800 in his state legislative campaign fund -- almost six times the $15,000 reported in the joint campaign fund for the incumbent judges. State legal experts say because Finifter is running on a joint ticket, he could transfer any amount of his fund to the judges' fund.

Finifter, Jakubowski and Wright are running in Tuesday's primary against two lawyers mounting separate campaigns: Allan P. Feigelson and Patrick Cavanaugh.

Critics say that with the primary next week, Finifter should have transferred more of his campaign cash to the judges' fund. The fact that he hasn't -- despite pledges of unity among the three sitting judges -- means that he is unsure of his chances, they say.

"I think Finifter's worried about a runoff in the general election and he wants to make sure that if there is one, the money stays in his control," said Barry C. Steel, a 27-year lawyer from Phoenix who has been active in past judicial races.

Warren Mix, a Towson lawyer, said the size of Finifter's campaign fund has many lawyers wondering what he plans to do with the cash he is keeping.

"The feeling is that he's doing his own thing, his own single effort, and this campaign-funding issue certainly gives that impression," said Mix, a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission that screens judicial candidates and recommends finalists to the governor. "It's outrageous."

Finifter said that he has been generous enough, has no specific plans for the money and is confident of winning the primary along with Wright and Jakubowski.

He said that he donated $20,000 from his legislative fund to the judges' campaign fund Aug. 30, which is not reflected in the most recent finance reports. He also said that he will transfer more funds if the judges need it.

"There's been enough support out there without that money, and the money is available if necessary," said Finifter, 45, of Owings Mills, a lawyer and a certified public accountant.

In 1994 and 1998, Finifter won more votes than any other candidate running in hotly contested elections for the three seats in the 11th District, based in Pikesville.

The three judges have gone door to door together, placed hundreds of campaign signs throughout the county and plan to have at least three volunteers handing out brochures Tuesday at each of the 187 polling places in the county.

Jakubowski, 49, of Pikesville and Wright, 52, of Glyndon say they feel Finifter is doing his share to promote the ticket.

"Financially, we're able to run the campaign the way we want to," said Wright. "It's a nonissue with us."

Wright, one of two African-American judges in the county, has served on the bench nine years and may be the best-known of the candidates among county lawyers.

Wright was appointed to the District Court in 1993 and 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. Gov. Parris N. Glendening reappointed him when a vacancy opened Jan. 17, 2001.

Under Maryland law, the governor appoints Circuit Court judges, but they must run for 15-year terms in elections held at least a year after the vacancy is created. The position pays $119,600 a year.

A Glendening spokeswoman said that the governor is "strongly endorsing" Wright and his fellow incumbents, but has not been actively involved in the campaign.

"He believes that he appointed the three most qualified and most capable individuals," said Raquel Gillory, a Glendening spokeswoman.

Cavanaugh, who has practiced law in Dundalk for 28 years, says that he is using anti-Glendening sentiment among voters in the county to his advantage. In his campaign flier, he describes himself as, "The Alternative to Glendening Appointees."

"I think that pushing the Glendening button has really helped," said Cavanaugh, 58, of Timonium. He has raised $31,030 and has $13,030 in his campaign fund, according to finance reports.

Feigelson said he is trying to keep political overtones out of his campaign and will spend $10,500: $8,000 of his money and $2,500 from his parents. He said he will not take money from lawyers who might appear before him if he is elected.

"Not that there's anything illegal about lawyers contributing money to judges, but it just creates the appearance of a conflict of interest," said Feigelson, 56, of Owings Mills.

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