Baltimore attorney Richard D. Bennett, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer who has served as Maryland's chief federal prosecutor and was the state's Republican chairman during President Bush's 2000 campaign, was tapped yesterday by the White House to become a federal judge.
Bennett, 55, was nominated to fill the vacancy on Maryland's federal bench created by Chief U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin's decision last summer to retire to senior status because of health concerns.
The nomination marks the second federal judicial appointment in Maryland under the Bush administration. The nomination of Baltimore Circuit Judge William D. Quarles to U.S. District Court, announced in September, also is pending before the Senate.
In Bennett, the White House selected an experienced trial attorney with well-established GOP ties, observers said. A native of Baltimore, Bennett worked as an assistant federal prosecutor from 1976 to 1981 and served as U.S. attorney for Maryland from 1991 to 1993 as an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.
Bennett, a partner in the white-collar criminal division at Miles & Stockbridge, has run twice on the Republican ticket for statewide office -- for state attorney general in 1994 and for lieutenant governor when Ellen R. Sauerbrey ran for governor in 1998.
Baltimore attorney Stephen H. Sachs, a Democrat who served as U.S. attorney and state attorney general, called Bennett's nomination a "splendid choice" who would continue what Sachs called a bipartisan tradition of excellent judges on the state's federal bench.
"He's fair. He's savvy. He's non-ideological," Sachs said. "And he's got a sense of humor, which seems like a good thing in a judge to me."
When he served as Maryland Republican Party chairman during the 2000 presidential campaign, Bennett frequently turned heads on the national stage with his striking resemblance to George W. Bush.
At the GOP convention in Philadelphia that summer, Bennett repeatedly was stopped by people for a conversation that typically began: "Has anybody ever told you ..."
Bennett could not be reached last night to comment on his nomination, which is not expected to face opposition.
He is a 1969 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and earned his law degree in 1973 from the University of Maryland. He has represented a number of high-profile clients in private practice, including Democratic state Del. Tony E. Fulton, who was cleared in 2000 on federal charges that he had conspired with lobbyist Gerard E. Evans in a scheme to defraud clients.