Endorsements fuel judges' race

3 on Balto. County ticket face challenge by Dundalk lawyer endorsed by PAC

October 14, 2002|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

At least one manager for the campaigning Baltimore County judges is promising to heat up what is already one of the most political judicial races in county history.

"It will be intensive and extensive during the weeks to come," said Larry Simmons, who is working for the "sitting judges" ticket. That ticket includes Alexander Wright Jr., Ruth A. Jakubowski and Michael J. Finifter, the three people recommended to the bench by the county's judicial nominating committee and then appointed by the governor. They are all judges but must win election this fall to secure their 15-year terms.

Their ticket has collected a slew of endorsements, including those of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland State Bar Association, the Baltimore County police and various state senators and delegates.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of inaccurate information supplied by the Baltimore County sitting judges' campaign, yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the endorsements given to the ticket.
In fact, the Baltimore County police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, endorsed only one of the sitting Circuit Court judges, Alexander Wright Jr. The police union also endorsed the judicial candidacy of Dundalk attorney Patrick Cavanaugh.
The Sun regrets the error.

Patrick Cavanaugh is a lawyer from Dundalk also running for a judicial position. He said he has significantly better qualifications for the job than does Finifter, who has little courtroom experience but won approval of the nominating committee.

A recently created political action committee supports a ticket of Cavanaugh, Wright and Jakubowski, leaving Finifter the odd man out. Wright and Jakubowski have said they want nothing to do with the PAC and that they and Finifter are running as a team.

Cavanaugh, a defense attorney, was endorsed by the Baltimore County Police, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, and by lodges of the state police and the Maryland State Transportation Authority.

In the primary, judges run for election as both Democrats and Republicans. This year, there were three vacancies, so the top three vote-getters in both primaries moved on to the general election. Because Cavanaugh got the most votes in the Republican primary, but did not win a slot in the Democratic primary, all four candidates moved on to the general election.

Clerk of court

In an intra-office race to head the 120-person clerk's office, Suzanne Mensh, who has been clerk of the Baltimore County Circuit Court for 16 years, faces William "Bill" Hill, a longtime Baltimore County court clerk. Mensh, 73, of Pikesville said her experience is invaluable to the office.

"Our budget is going to be affected tremendously," she said. "We work smart now, but we're going to have to find ways to work harder with far less. And I think it takes a person with experience to do that."

Hill, 55, of Towson, has worked in the clerk's office for 12 years. He said he wants to improve clerks' interactions with the public and boost morale in the office overall.

"The only thing our employees need here is for somebody to listen to them with respect," he said. "That is very important."

Hill lost to Mensh in the Democratic primary four years ago. This year, he ran as a Republican.

Register of wills

The register of wills oversees the office that organizes and distributes assets of the deceased.

Grace G. Connolly, 58, has had the position since 1998. Before that, she was a judge in the Orphans' Court, which hears disputes over wills and assets. She has made educating residents about the office a priority and said she has spoken to the elderly at hundreds of events to forward that goal.

She is being challenged by Republican George W. McCarter, 51, a mediator for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

He said he, too, wants to educate people about the office and that he wants to "bring it back to the people."

Orphans' Court

Three Republicans - Louis Luperini, Ray Allen and John Bunch - are challenging the Democratic incumbent Orphans' Court judges, Theresa A. Lawler, Julie L. Ensor and Gloria J. Butta.

Allen, 59, said his experience as a businessman will help him clear the backlogs that he said trouble the court. Luperini, 59, said his legal experience could help do the same.

Ensor, 41, who became an Orphans' Court judge in 1994, said there is no backlog. She said she has the "judicial experience and the necessary legal knowledge" for the position.

Lawler was elected to the bench in 1998. Butta, a longtime employee in the Baltimore County Circuit Court clerk's office, was appointed a year ago to fill the vacancy created by the death of her husband, Salvatore N. Butta.

Bunch, a 31-year-old retirement plan representative at T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills, said he was inspired to run by a report on Maryland court reforms. He said he would like to see Orphans' Court judges cut back on judicial pageantry and become more accessible to the public.

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