Bel Air lawyer, circuit judge face off

Clerk, register of wills among Harford races

October 30, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Three Harford races -- for judge, clerk and register of wills -- could change the face of the county's circuit courthouse.

In the judge's race, Stuart Jay Robinson, a lawyer from Havre de Grace, gathered 1,776 signatures to qualify him to challenge Judge William O. Carr of Bel Air, who was appointed to the circuit bench in 1984 and has been the administrative judge since 1986. In Maryland, judges are appointed by the governor to 15-year terms but must win election also.

Robinson, 53, said he is troubled by the 2000-2001 annual report of the Maryland judiciary, which found the Harford Circuit Court ranked in the lowest quarter among the 24 jurisdictions for its processing of criminal, civil and domestic cases. "To me, as a lawyer, that was unsatisfactory performance," he said. "Our system is not effectively serving the people."

He said he also objects to judges taking political contributions because it creates an "insider's perception" in the courthouse. He estimates he has spent about $20,000 of his own money to campaign.

Robinson was nominated but not appointed to the circuit bench in 1999 and district bench in 1999 and 2000. He said he would bring a diverse background to the job. He has been a lawyer for 28 years and has served on boards at the county and state level. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore.

Carr, 54, is administrative and chambers judge, which means he often oversees operations, submitting the $1.4 million budget to the county and maintaining the trial docket.

He said the unfavorable state judiciary report spurred changes in case processing. Early scheduling conferences are now used to set trial dates and subsequent pretrial conferences. "By doing this, we have moved cases along much faster," he said. "I think we've paid attention to the management of cases. Can I prove that by numbers or statistics? No, I cannot."

He has helped to improve the court's family support services "to empower people to resolve cases through mediation." In his next term, he wants to institute an adult drug court; work with other elected officials to win more drug treatment money for the county; and continue to refine the system for handling cases more expeditiously.

Clerk of court: James Reilly, a Republican from Whiteford, is challenging Charles G. Hiob III, the Democratic incumbent from Edgewood, to become clerk, the person who performs marriages, swears in judges and oversees a staff that issues business licenses and record deeds, and keeps track of court paperwork.

Reilly, 46, is a 23-year Baltimore County police officer and part-time computer technology teacher at Harford Community College. He said wants to create a better system for tracking a defendant's prior cases for the state's attorney's office. "They need to be provided with accurate and complete information on repeat offenders so judges know ... this is the fifth bite of the apple, not the first," he said.

Hiob, 55, said the office's work has changed significantly during his tenure with the advent of the Internet and computerized records. He said many of his opponent's ideas can't be implemented because "we're a state agency. You can't just do whatever you want to do." He added that land records are computerized and the state's attorney's and clerk's offices are on the same network.

Register of wills: Linda J. Mochinal, a Republican from Abingdon is challenging longtime incumbent Harry L.W. Hopkins, a Bel Air Democrat. Both say there are no real "issues" in the race to head the office that validates the authenticity of real estate and other assets left to surviving friends and family members in wills.

Mochinal, 53, works from home for a computer company, configuring systems and assisting with sales. "This is a good opportunity," she said of her candidacy. "I'd like to get involved with the citizens and help them through this process."

Hopkins, 76, is a former orphans' court judge who has held the register's job for 16 years. "I just love the job. I enjoy being able to help people who have gone through the shock of losing a loved one."

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