Orphans' Court candidates find need to educate voters

Primary to pare field to 3 per party to run for court handling estate matters

Election 2002

September 08, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

As they campaign, most of the nine hopefuls for Anne Arundel County Orphans' Court judge find that they spend at least as much time telling voters what the obscure court does as they do boosting their candidacies.

The court -- which critics for decades have sought to abolish as an anachronism -- mainly handles routine estate matters and occasionally resolves disputes over contested wills. Decisions can be appealed to Circuit Court or to the Court of Special Appeals.

Statewide, 21 counties and Baltimore have elected orphans' courts; in Montgomery and Harford counties, the circuit courts have assumed the role.

The judges need not be lawyers but must be Marylanders with a year of residency in the jurisdiction where they are running. Several years ago, Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals said it was unclear whether the candidates need to be 18 and registered to vote, two common requirements for office-holders.

In Anne Arundel, Tuesday's primary will winnow the field of five Democrats and four Republicans to three from each party for the general election.

The judges sit two days a week. For eight years, the annual salaries have been $15,500 for the chief judge and $15,000 for the other two judges. On Dec. 1, the pay increases to $19,500 for the chief judge and $19,000 for the other two.

Democratic candidates

On the Democratic side, the Duckett seeking the job is not Orphans' Court Judge Judith L. Duckett. It is her daughter-in-law, Joan Duckett, 38, of Annapolis, who said that when her mother-in-law decided against seeking another term, she jumped in.

"Basically, I think it would be an excellent way to help people when they need it most, and in an interesting manner," she said.

The volunteer fund-raiser for Anne Arundel Medical Center and former aide to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes is hoping that name recognition and ballot position will help her. Married with two young sons, she has a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

This is the second try for public office by Jacqueline Boone Alsip, 54, of Glen Burnie, who made an unsuccessful bid for District 31 delegate four years ago. A registered nurse, she has long been active in Democratic politics and community activities and has served as a health care arbitrator for the state and county liquor board inspector. She also teaches nursing at Anne Arundel Community College and serves on its community advisory board on diversity.

She holds a master's degree in nursing administration from Bowie State University. She is a divorced parent of two grown children.

"I want to help families through the bureaucracy," she said.

Alex Carter Gudger, 58, of Annapolis said she first looked into the Orphans' Court because she worked in Costa Rican orphanages.

"Now I know better," she said. She sees the position as "mediation between the needs and the law" and said her experience on the state Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board enhances her qualifications. A widow with two teen-age children, she speaks Spanish and holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of Wisconsin.

Greg Harthausen, 62, of Millersville is the semiretired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business. A founder of the Old Mill Community Association, he has been active in community activities, including 27 years as a high school and college baseball umpire.

He ran unsuccessfully for County Council four years ago as a Republican but switched parties. A high school graduate and former county police officer, he has served on the county's Spending Affordability Committee and as a consumer representative on the state Board of Morticians.

"No matter what I do, I dedicate myself to it," he said. "I just want people to know that their concerns are my concerns."

Paul R. Shelby, 66, of Edgewater is a lawyer who served two elected terms on the Prince George's County Board of Education before returning to Anne Arundel County two years ago.

The University of Baltimore law school graduate's work has included probate law, which he said gives him a keen understanding of laws applying to the Orphans' Court. By law, he will have to close his private law practice if elected.

"I know the work, and I think I can do it," he said.

Republican candidates

The two incumbents are Republicans campaigning on a record of service.

The chief judge, artist Gail J. Schaffer, 58, of Edgewater, is seeking a third term, and noted her experience doing research and hearing disputes.

"The court is always changing -- in volume and in complexity of the kinds of cases that we hear," she said.

She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and has been an active volunteer with several organizations. Married, she is the parent of one adult son.

Judge Nancy C. Phelps, 54, a real estate agent from Gambrills, is seeking a second term. She also mentors other agents.

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