Four Baltimore County Circuit Court judges appeared near victory as election officials worked late into the night tallying the vote from yesterday's judicial primary.
The incumbent judges - Vicki Ballou-Watts, Dana M. Levitz, Susan M. Souder and John G. Turnbull II - were hoping to avoid a general election by defeating two challengers in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
In the past two elections, a challenger has knocked off one of the sitting judges in the general election, a significant shift from the days when Baltimore County judges glided into office uncontested.
Challengers Brenda A. Clark, a longtime Baltimore County lawyer, and David Saltzman, a retired city lawyer, were hoping to force that longer race, if not win altogether.
But early today, with more than 85 percent of precincts counted, the incumbents appeared to have commanding leads.
"Everyone is elated. It's clearly a victory. It was very hard work," said Jim Temple, coordinator of the sitting judges' campaign.
Judges are appointed by the governor but must win election to secure their 15-year terms. As nonpartisan candidates, they run in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
With four seats at issue, the top four vote-getters in each primary would appear on the general election ballot.
Levitz and Turnbull were appointed to the bench in the mid-1980s and then voted into their first 15-year terms.
Souder and Ballou-Watts were appointed to the bench by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 2002; this marks the first time they have stood for election.
In the weeks leading up to yesterday's vote, the judges waged a campaign with television and radio ads - and, for the first time in a Baltimore County judges' race, their own jingle.
Name recognition was essential, they said, because voters typically have no idea who is running for circuit judge.
The sitting judges spent more than $31,000 on the race between Jan. 28 and Feb. 15, according to campaign finance reports.
In that same time period, they raised more than $50,000 - the bulk of which came from tickets to their main fund-raiser in early February.
In their campaign, the challengers offered little in the way of specific criticism of the sitting judges. They did not identify which judges they believe are less qualified than they are.
Clark, a longtime Baltimore County lawyer, was considered by many in the legal community to be a more formidable candidate than Saltzman, who did not campaign. She had criticized the judicial election process here as flawed and overly-political.
As of Feb. 15, her campaign had raised just under $4,000.
The phenomenon of a hotly contested judicial race in Baltimore County is a fairly recent one.
In 2000, then-District Court Judge Robert N. Dugan challenged two Glendening appointees for Circuit Court and won.
In the next election, which split the legal community, lawyer Patrick Cavanaugh challenged the sitting-judge ticket and was voted onto the bench.