Long line forms to fill two District Court seats

In Baltimore County, record number of lawyers aiming for vacancies

December 11, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

A record number of lawyers are vying for two open spots on Baltimore County's District Court bench.

According to the list of official candidates released this week, dozens of prosecutors, defense attorneys, administrative judges and other lawyers -- a total of 48 -- have submitted their applications and references in the hopes of winning a black robe next year.

Baltimore County typically has a high number of applicants for judicial vacancies -- in 2001, for instance, 43 people applied for two vacancies. But there have never been as many judicial hopefuls as there are this year, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Members of the local legal community have a number of hypotheses for the super-sized applicant list.

Some guessed that the economy is making a judgeship, and its $111,500 salary, more appealing than usual. Others said that with two vacancies created by the retirement of Judges A. Gordon Boone and I. Marshall Seidler, lawyers might think they have a better chance of winning a seat.

The most popular theory is that ambitious lawyers want to try their luck with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his new judicial nominating commissions, the groups that interview candidates and make recommendations to the governor.

"This is the first opportunity for this governor to select a District Court judge for Baltimore County," said Towson attorney Stephen J. Nolan. "So I think all interested people are applying."

District Court judges preside over packed dockets that include everything from landlord-tenant complaints and domestic violence cases to misdemeanor criminal matters, traffic violations and civil cases. They are appointed by the governor to 10-year terms.

The governor also appoints the majority of members to the local nominating committees.

Under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, many in the legal community grumbled that the judicial nominating process had become too political. Glendening had shifted the makeup of the commissions so that he could appoint female and minority candidates and break what he said was the "old boys'" hold on the judiciary.

But Ehrlich returned the commissions this year to their lawyer-dominated makeup, and Baltimore County lawyers are taking their chances.

The Baltimore County commission, which includes the governor's appointees and lawyers elected by the local bar association, will interview 42 of the 48 candidates and will recommend seven of those to the governor.

Six candidates have an automatic path to the governor's desk because they have been approved by commissions in previous years.

Gary S. Bernstein, a Towson attorney elected to the nominating commission this year, said the panel will look for candidates with the legal and personal skills to handle the challenges of the busy District Courts.

"I think there are some people on this list who are not District Court practitioners [and] who think this is an easy job," Bernstein said.

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