Forum pits judges, rivals

3 incumbents face off against 3 challengers

Seats on Circuit Court at stake

Appointment process, leniency among top issues

Anne Arundel

October 12, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Three Anne Arundel County judges and the challengers hoping to win their Circuit Court jobs squared off last night in what is likely to be their only six-way forum before the Nov. 2 election.

The challengers took on the appointment process, telling the more than 120 people who attended that the sitting judges were appointed by a Democratic governor in a politicized process that does not make them more qualified for election to 15-year terms than the men who seek to replace them.

The judges countered that they have experience and records of fairness behind them, and one judge - David S. Bruce - sharply noted that none of the challengers applied for Circuit Court appointments and submitted to scrutiny by a commission that recommends lawyers for judicial appointments.

"Ten times have gone by, and none of them have applied," Bruce said.

The judicial election is the only countywide race on the ballot.

With three judges on the ballot, challengers consider it their best chance in recent years of booting a sitting Anne Arundel judge off the bench. The races are nonpartisan, so the candidates are listed alphabetically on the ballot, without party affiliation.

This is the first contested judicial election in eight years in Anne Arundel, and it has been a quarter-century since voters removed a judge through the ballot box.

Republicans have made no secret of their desire to dismantle the state's only Circuit Court bench that was appointed entirely by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, painting its current 10 members as soft on crime.

Although most voters in the county who registered with a party affiliation are Democrats, the county is conservative. And Republicans are encouraged by the outcomes of contested races in Howard and Baltimore counties in recent years, in which Glendening appointees lost.

Appointed in 2002

The judges on Arundel's ballot - Bruce, 56, of West River, Michele D. Jaklitsch, 46, of Annapolis, and Rodney C. Warren, 44, of Crofton, all appointed in 2002 - are running as a ticket. All are registered Democrats.

The challengers - not unified - are Paul G. Goetzke, 44, of Davidsonville, counsel to the mayor of Annapolis; Paul F. Harris, 56, of Pasadena, in private law practice; and Stephen P. Beatty, 35, of Millersville, an assistant public defender in Baltimore. All are Republicans.

Beatty, the only candidate who did not go through the primary, won a place on the ballot through a petition drive and is supported by the Libertarian Party.

Goetzke and Harris repeatedly referred to the Arundel bench as the second-most-lenient in sentencing in the state, but did not single out any judge. Beatty said the current system of allowing crime victims to tell their plight to judges comes during sentencing, which he said is " too late" because by then judges typically have agreed to terms of a plea bargain.

All three challengers said it is time for fresh judges.

The sitting judges told the audience that the race should not be about politics. They said they are fair and unbiased, listening to each person who appeared in court and carefully weighing many factors, including the need to protect the community and rehabilitate criminals.

Little new territory

Candidates staked out little new territory in the forum sponsored by the American Association of University Women-Severna Park Branch and the county chapters of the League of Women Voters and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Questions focused on issues relating to women, juvenile crime and families.

Asked to identify the most critical issue facing women in the county, Bruce pointed to domestic violence and safety for children. Jaklitsch said child-support issues continue to frustrate judges who order the money withheld from paychecks only to see a father quit his job to avoid payment. Warren raised the issues of domestic violence, child support and paying for litigation.

Goetzke identified safety, noting that the county is bordered in part by two jurisdictions where serious crime has been a severe problem.

Harris said women enduring family breakups often lack financial records and then money, though a judge can order payment of expert services. Beatty said judges too often give a parent a month to come up with past-due child support, then fail to make good on a threat to jail the parent when the month goes by with no support.

Warren is the only black judge on the Anne Arundel Circuit Court and ballot, and Jaklitsch, one of three female judges, is the only woman in the race.

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