Judicial contest has unusual twists

Allegations of improprieties abound in Baltimore County Circuit Court race

Maryland Votes 2006

September 10, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

One candidate has been chastised by an ethics panel for using what it said were misleading campaign materials.

Another is a witness - and the alleged motive - in a murder-for-hire case scheduled for trial in Baltimore this fall.

And the four incumbents have been accused of publicizing endorsements that they did not expressly receive.

Such is this year's campaign for four judgeships on the Baltimore County Circuit Court bench - one of several courthouse races on Tuesday's primary ballot.

Judicial elections have always been something of a different breed - generally free from the campaign promises central to other elections. Instead, judicial candidates talk about their temperament, integrity and work as lawyers.

"It's very awkward for judges to run for office because it puts them in an arena they're not comfortable with," said Alvin Alston, a criminal defense attorney who works for the county public defender's office.

"As a candidate for a judgeship, you can't say you're going to be tough on crime. You can't say you will put all armed robbers in jail because that shows a predisposition," Alston said. "As a judge, you have to be impartial."

This year, six candidates are running for four seats on the bench. All their names will appear on both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots. The four candidates with the highest vote tallies on each side will advance to the general election.

Once elected, Circuit Court judges serve 15-year terms.

Four candidates were appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. after being vetted by the county's nonpartisan judicial nominating commission.

Mickey J. Norman, 56, a former state trooper and county prosecutor, was appointed in June 2004.

The others - Robert E. Cahill Jr., 49, who had been a District Court judge; Judith C. Ensor, 44, a former French teacher and partner at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston; and Timothy J. Martin, 61, a former prosecutor who spent 28 years in private practice specializing in family law - were appointed in October.

Running together as a slate, the sitting judges have raised $351,000, according to campaign finance reports filed by Sept. 1.

Arthur M. Frank, 51, a lawyer for 30 years, announced his candidacy for this year's elections in August 2004. Although Frank once made it through the judicial nominating commission to the "short list" of nominees forwarded to the governor, he was not appointed judge and decided to seek the job through the voters.

Frank's campaign was faulted in July by the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee for using materials that misleadingly portrayed him as a judge. His campaign literature, signs and minivan featured the words Judge and Frank so prominently that they appeared to be his title, the panel found.

Although Frank said he disputes the authority of the MJCCC - a panel formed earlier this year at the behest of Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell - to make such a finding about his campaign, he nonetheless altered the wording on his new election materials and added the words "not an incumbent" to the graphic on his Web site.

Frank has raised $198,145, including $87,500 he lent his campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Frank has recently accused the sitting judges of publicizing endorsements from politicians who have not actually endorsed the full slate.

He said he first became concerned about what he called the "phony endorsements" when he saw campaign materials that listed Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele as one of the slate's supporters. Frank said that Steele, a personal friend, is supporting his own bid for judge.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for Steele's U.S. Senate campaign, wrote in an e-mailed response to questions that "Steele's show of support for his friend, Arthur Frank, in no way diminishes his confidence in the ... sitting judges in Baltimore County."

Heye did not respond to a follow-up phone call and e-mail asking specifically whether Steele had endorsed the slate.

Another politician who Frank said had not endorsed his opponents - Del. A. Wade Kach, a county Republican - said that although he supports the sitting judges and intends to vote for them, he was surprised to see his name in their campaign brochures because he had not granted permission for that.

Norman said that the sitting judges' materials have listed endorsements from people with whom the judges spoke directly as well as others whose support was communicated to them "through a third party."

William R. Buie III, 35, an attorney for seven years who specializes in criminal defense and personal injury cases, was the last to file for judge. He is a witness in the criminal trial of his former lover and office manager, who is charged with solicitation to commit murder. She is accused of trying to hire someone to kill the woman who became Buie's new lover and office manager.

Buie, who did not return phone messages last week about his candidacy, has raised $42,380, including $33,420 he lent his campaign, according to campaign finance records.

In addition to the judicial elections, there are four courthouse races on the ballot.

Sheriff R. Jay Fisher, 58, a Baltimore police veteran finishing his first term, does not have a Democratic opponent.

Two men are vying for the Republican nomination for sheriff.

Tim Caldwell, 48, of Sparrows Point is the owner of a design and building firm and executive director of the Community Policing Strategies Foundation.

Bill Burley, 48, of Kingsville spent 20 years with the Baltimore Police Department and now works as director of a security company.

Two Republicans, J. Michael Collins and Bill Hill, and four Democrats, Yvonne Clark, incumbent Suzanne Mensh, Kevin Rex Mooring and Anna K. Pearce, are running for Circuit Court clerk.

And there are 16 candidates - four Republicans and a dozen Democrats - seeking three judgeships on the Orphans' Court, the county's part-time probate court that settles disputes dealing with inheritances and estates.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.