Consultant works to unseat 2-term incumbent court clerk

Democrat emphasizes doing `better job'

record defended by Duckworth

October 31, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Severn business consultant and Democratic activist who says he wants to bring innovation to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is hoping to unseat the incumbent clerk of the court next week.

"We need to do a better job down at the courthouse," said Michael J. Serabian Sr., the Democratic hopeful, who said he would like to bring a modern business approach to the office.

Robert P. Duckworth, a Republican seeking his third term as clerk, said he has led the office though eight years of improvements and hopes to make more.

The clerk, who is paid about $75,000 a year, manages a 110-person office that maintains Circuit Court records, from criminal cases and civil lawsuits to land records and business licenses, all of which are growing in numbers. The office also performs weddings -- Duckworth performed the ceremony for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Jennifer Crawford.

Political observers consider this an uphill race for Serabian, 47, against Duckworth, 62, of Crofton.

Serabian said he has heard of problems in the electronic recording of land transactions. He said people he asked -- employees and abstractors -- seemed fearful of discussing them, which he said pointed to a problem in the atmosphere of the office.

The system, part of a state network, was installed about three years ago. But, Serabian alleged, some who search land records find it hard to use, and people are finding errors that cost them time in doing research.

"Their costs are going to go up, and that is going to be passed along," he said.

Serabian criticized Duckworth for filing a lawsuit against congressional redistricting, saying it injects politics into the clerk's job. Duckworth's claim of gerrymandering by Democrats failed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore but is on appeal.

"That behavior is entirely inconsistent with someone who's concerned with administrative duties within the office," he said.

Serabian, who is working toward a doctorate in applied psychology from the Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., said he would take a fresh approach to the office, starting by assessing its current setup in finances, technology, pay scale and other areas.

Based on the results, he would make improvements in all of those areas, he said.

Serabian is newly elected to the state Democratic Central Committee. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in business from George Washington University and has made a career in business management and development consulting. He has taught at the Johns Hopkins University and written about business management.

Serabian and his wife are the parents of four school-age children.

In making his case for re-election, Duckworth said, "The courthouse clerk's office is better after eight years of my administration [than] it's ever been." He listed as examples computerization of the office, increased efficiency and maintaining court forms for people who have no lawyer. He called his staff knowledgeable and helpful.

Duckworth rejected Serabian's contention of problems in land records, saying he would have heard about major troubles, in part because the environment is conducive to people expressing their concerns.

"The title searchers have evolved with us," he said, adding that while the system is imperfect, it "is light-years from where we were." He also said the redistricting lawsuit has not detracted from his duties as clerk and that, as a private citizen, he had the right to file it.

Duckworth said he hopes to help the court move toward electronic filing in court cases, which would make records more accessible as well as easier to track. He also has worked closely on a professional development program for clerks, and said he wants to help as many of his own staff members as possible complete it.

Duckworth, who holds a bachelor's degree in political science and master's degree in planning and development from Catholic University, worked as an administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1970s and 1980s before becoming a deputy clerk in Anne Arundel County.

He and his wife are the parents of two grown children.

Both men have been unsuccessful candidates for Congress and have been active in civic, community and political arenas.

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