Ethics panel calls judicial candidate's signs misleading


A lawyer who is running for Baltimore County Circuit Court has used campaign materials that misleadingly portray him as a judge, according to a report released yesterday by a newly formed judicial candidates ethics panel.

The panel faulted Arthur M. Frank, a 51-year-old Owings Mills attorney, for using campaign materials emblazoned with "People's Choice For Judge Arthur Frank," with the words "Judge" and "Frank" in bigger type and a different color than the rest of the text.

"Mr. Frank's campaign materials - campaign flyers, T-shirts, van and signage - inescapably and inaccurately suggest to many voters that he is already a judge," according to the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee report. "The graphics are plainly designed to create the image of `Judge Frank' when Mr. Frank is not a judge," the report said.

The ruling was the first by the panel of attorneys, academics and politicians, formed earlier this year at the behest of Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell. The committee has asked judicial candidates to sign pledges to uphold standards drafted by the committee, but has no authority to issue sanctions against violators.

Separate complaints were filed against Frank by Baltimore Circuit Judge Judith C. Ensor, whose name will appear on the ballot with Frank's after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named her to the bench last year, and others.

"It's sort of classic misleading advertising when you stick out two words in prominence and you use small types for the words that are a basic disclaimer," said Carmen Shepard, a former deputy attorney general who is a committee member.

Frank disputed the ruling.

"The reason why `judge' and `Frank' are bigger ... is because it's common and important for the citizens to know that my last name is Frank and that I'm running for judge," Frank said, adding that "there's two other Franks running for House of Delegates in Baltimore County."

Frank denied that he wanted to portray himself as an incumbent, "because the judges I'm running against are the same judges that were selected by the same political process that brought us the Public Service Commission."

Frank said he never signed the committee's pledge and does not plan on changing his campaign materials because of the ruling.

"It's a censorship committee that's trying to suppress free speech," Frank said.

Shepard said the aim of the committee is to inform voters of ethics violations.

The ruling "is a statement of basically what we think is fair play and fair comment and what we think is misleading," she said.

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