Two appointees bring Howard County Circuit Court to full strength.

New judges buttress bench

August 24, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Two newly appointed judges will be sworn in this week on the Howard County Circuit Court, filling a void in the five-member bench, which has not been fully occupied since the beginning of the year.

Richard S. Bernhardt, an assistant attorney general, will be sworn in today. District Judge Louis A. Becker, who has served on that Howard court for nearly 16 years, is to be sworn-in Friday. Each must seek election next year to a 15-year term.

They were appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last month, selected from a group of 13 applicants to replace judges James B. Dudley and Raymond J. Kane Jr., who retired in January and June, respectively.

Bernhardt is scheduled to be sworn in today by Margaret D. Rappaport, clerk of the Circuit Court, and will report to work tomorrow. Becker is scheduled to be sworn in Friday and will start work Monday.

The judges will first sit with an experienced judge to learn the ways of the Circuit Court, which handles large civil cases, divorces, jury trials and serious criminal cases, such as murder. They also will attend the orientation course for new trial judges. Becker has experience in the course, where he lectured on search-and-seizure law and legal ethics.

Becker and Bernhardt both live in Ellicott City and both have extensive experience in the public sector. Becker has been a District judge since 1989, and Bernhardt has been a lawyer for the government for two decades.

Bernhardt, 47, said his desire to be a lawyer and a judge might sound corny, but it's true. He has a strong calling to work in the public sector, he said.

He served as a public defender for 16 years, primarily in Howard County, and then became an assistant attorney general for the insurance fraud division of the Maryland Insurance Administration in 2000.

An Eagle Scout and former master of a Cub Scout pack, Bernhardt has been active in children's issues. He is on the board of Howard County DrugFree, which educates teens about the dangers of substance abuse, and has served on a boundary line commission for Howard County public schools system.

"All of this evolved from my parents," Bernhardt said. "They were public service-minded. They really drummed it into our heads, my sister and I, that public service is a good thing. And I guess I took it to heart."

Becker, 61, came to the District Court bench in 1989, after practicing criminal and civil law in a Columbia law firm.

Becker said he is entering this new phase of his career with mixed feelings - he is sad to leave behind his colleagues on the District Court, where he was involved in starting the county's first DWI/drug court, which began in June 2004. The program, which has intense treatment and judicial supervision, had its first graduating class, of two people, in July.

District Court Judge Neil E. Axel will be taking over Becker's DWI/drug court responsibilities, and Becker hopes to continue to focus on addiction problems at the Circuit Court level.

"Addictions are an underlying problem in a lot of cases, not only criminal cases," he said.

On the District Court, Becker has presided over cases such as landlord-tenant disputes, motor vehicle violations, misdemeanors and certain felonies. He is looking forward to hearing a new field of cases, as well as jury trials, at the higher court.

"I always found a great sense of satisfaction [at District Court], some days you're settling maybe 20 or 30 disputes," he said. "On the other hand, from a professional point of view, I'm looking forward to doing cases that will be more challenging, more complex."

As Bernhardt prepares to begin his first experience as a judge, he hopes to ensure that the people who appear before him feel as though they have received a fair hearing.

"At the end of any proceeding, of course there's going to be a winner and a loser," he said. "But ... I think that if they felt that they've been treated with respect, and fairly, and that the law has been applied fairly to their case ... the entire community benefits from that."

Louis Aloysius Becker

Age: 61 Experience: Was a District Court judge in Howard County, beginning in 1989. He previously practiced criminal and civil law and was a partner at the Columbia law firm Becker, Spahn, Harvis, Fila & Colt. Education: Earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola College in Baltimore in 1965 and graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1970. Personal: Lives in Ellicott City and he and his wife have two sons.

Richard Scott Bernhardt

Age: 47 Experience: Was an assistant attorney general for the insurance fraud division of the Maryland Insurance Administration, beginning in 2000. He previously was an assistant public defender in Howard County for 14 years and in Baltimore City for two years. Education: Earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1980 and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1983. Personal: Lives in Ellicott City, and he and his wife have three children.

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