Sue-Ellen Hantman, a veteran Howard County prosecutor known for her wide-ranging community, political and professional involvement, was named yesterday to the Howard District Court bench.
Hantman's appointment, one of the last three of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's eight-year administration, fills the slot left vacant in June by the death of Judge C. James Sfekas.
It also fulfills a goal that the 57-year-old Columbia resident had spent the past decade and a half trying to achieve. At least a half-dozen tries for a judgeship - all but one in District Court - have ended in disappointment.
She believes, she said, that her work as a prosecutor - most recently in Columbia's HotSpots communities - has prepared her well for the District Court.
"I think I have a different perspective on people who come into the system in the District Court," she said. "I've seen how difficult it is, sometimes, for people to get the help they need to go straight."
Co-workers and colleagues lauded her appointment yesterday, saying she will make a fair and compassionate addition to the five-member bench.
"Sue-Ellen has always dealt equally with every criminal defense attorney, with every defendant," District Public Defender Carol A. Hanson said. "She is honest. She is fair."
Hantman, a married mother of three grown children, is also a hard worker, colleagues said - one interested in leading the way and providing quiet support behind the scenes in a variety of organizations.
"She's willing to roll up her sleeves and do all the work that needs to be done," Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said. "She's a treasure in Howard County."
Hantman's appointment will bring the Howard bench to its full strength for the first time since Chief District Court Judge James N. Vaughan's promotion in September 2001. (When Vaughan's replacement, Judge Pamila J. Brown, was named in late April, Sfekas was on leave, battling thyroid cancer.)
It also creates a majority female District Court bench in the district, which includes Carroll County. Four of the district's seven judges are women.
A Long Island, N.Y., native, Hantman graduated from Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey in 1969. She did legal work part time for a few years during the next decade while she raised her children and traveled with her husband, who was in the military.
After moving to Maryland in the late 1970s, she passed the bar here in 1979. In 1980, she joined the staff of the Howard County state's attorney's office, working as a prosecutor for nine years before leaving to be a solo practitioner.
She rejoined the office in January 1995. Since September 1999, she has worked as the prosecutor assigned to HotSpots, an anti-crime program that concentrates resources in troubled neighborhoods, working in Long Reach and Harper's Choice villages.
Throughout, she has been actively involved in community, legal and political organizations - heading the county's Democratic Party in the early 1990s, running unsuccessfully for a series of political offices and working on a variety of organizational boards.
She is president of the Howard bar and Community Building in Howard County, which works to honor cultural diversity, reduce prejudice and encourage alternatives to violence, such as peer mediation.
"She brings a great sense of community, which I think is very important, to the bench," said Howard Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino. "She knows the problems that are out there - and not only the criminal problems, but the societal ills that are the cause of the problems."