Candidates hope to oust trio of circuit judges

3 Democrats appointed by Glendening in 2002 fight to stay on bench

Election 2004

October 24, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In an increasingly bitter battle, three local lawyers are seeking to dismantle the only Circuit Court bench chosen entirely by the former governor as his popularity waned and, in the process, hope to oust a sitting Anne Arundel County judge for the first time in 28 years.

The challengers - none of them a Democrat - have attacked the county's 10-judge Circuit Court bench as a lenient group selected through a process so politically tainted that only Democrats had hope of being chosen.

The three judges on the ballot respond that they opened themselves to a rigorous vetting before being recommended to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, while none of their three challengers applied to be appointed to the Circuit Court. The judges say they have been fair and unbiased on the job since their 2002 appointments.

The six candidates have been battling each other through targeted mailings and e-mails, candidates nights, yard signs and other campaign efforts. Together, they raised $200,000 for the primary alone.

The candidates have been trading jabs for weeks over everything from contributors to whether they've handled certain kinds of cases. Last week, a flier from the sitting judges' campaign incorrectly said one challenger had not represented anyone in a criminal jury trial in a decade and that another had just finished criminal probation.

The six candidates are struggling for name recognition and to motivate voters to look at the bottom of the ballot in an election where the attention will be focused on the presidential and congressional races.


In Maryland, the governor appoints judges from a list submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission. A judge then must run in the next election to secure a 15-year term. The annual salary for a Circuit Court judge is $120,352.

The contest holds the potential to undo some of Glendening's diversification of the bench. The court's sole African-American judge and one of its three women judges are on the ballot.


An early October poll by challenger Paul G. Goetzke, showed him, Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch and challenger Paul F. Harris as the leaders. Nearly half the voters were undecided.

Voters might be somewhat familiar with Goetzke, 44, a Republican from Davidsonville. Formerly in private practice, in 1993 he became the Annapolis city attorney. Last year, he was named counsel to the mayor. He also received wide attention when a diving accident in 2000 paralyzed him from the chest down.

Promising to "impose tough, common-sense sentencing" in criminal cases, he said, "We have the second-most-lenient court in all of Maryland."

He was referring to a report by the state's Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy covering 2000 to 2002 - nearly all of that before the judges on the ballot were appointed. The report shows four of 10 sentences fell below state guidelines. The commission does not have later reports, but Goetzke says the bench is "increasingly lenient."

Citing public concern about campaign donations, Goetzke is accepting none from lawyers who try cases in the county or anyone with matters pending before Annapolis government.


Harris, the other Republican, joins Goetzke in arguing that the appointment process had grown too political under Glendening to produce the best-qualified judges.

"I have always maintained that when these judges were appointed, they were getting on-the-job training. It was at the expense of the people who practiced in front of them," said Harris, 56, of Pasadena.

Harris has practiced law for 29 years, handling mostly family and civil matters. Those are the kinds of cases that make up more than half of the Circuit Court's workload. A good judge, he said, has the experience to tell who is manipulating the legal system. He contended some candidates lack varied experience.

He is accepting campaign contributions from lawyers, though most contributions are relatively small. "You need money to turn a campaign," Harris said.

Harris also says that, contrary to the allegation in last week's flier, he has had criminal jury trials, most recently last month in Caroline County.


Stephen P. Beatty, 35, of Millersville, a lawyer for less than four years, is an assistant public defender in Baltimore. He switched from the GOP, and in July became the Libertarian Party candidate. He is the only candidate who skipped the primary.

Beatty contended that although it is legal for judges to accept campaign money from lawyers and others who appear before them, the contributions "present the appearance of impropriety." He is running his campaign on a financial shoestring.

"My sentencing philosophy is that if you hurt another person, you are going to jail every time," Beatty said. He added that he would not sign off on a plea agreement until hearing from a victim and would not sentence a nonviolent offender until the defendant had an opportunity to make restitution under the threat of being jailed for failing to pay.

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