Challenger stages scrappy Circuit Court fight

Ethics, experience at issue in campaign for a judge's seat

Maryland Votes 2006

6 days until Election Day

November 01, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,Sun reporter

David A. Titman says candidates for Howard County's Circuit Court should not accept campaign contributions from trial lawyers and special interests - one of the issues he has raised in his aggressive campaign to unseat one of two judges.

"I refused to accept contributions from attorneys that practice in the Circuit Court because if you accept contributions from attorneys, I believe it creates an improper impression with the public," Titman said.

But Titman tried last fall to get contributions from lawyers. He then decided to return the little in funds he collected and instead announced that he would not accept money from lawyers on ethical grounds.

The 59-year-old private attorney from Woodbine, a former federal prosecutor, is hoping his campaign based on ethics and his 34 years of legal experience will persuade voters next week to unseat one of the appointed judges - Louis A. Becker or Richard S. Bernhardt. The three candidates are running for two 15-year judgeships on the Circuit Court.

Becker, 48, and Bernhardt, 62, both of Ellicott City, were appointed to the court by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in August 2005 to replace retiring judges.

Becker, a 16-year District Court judge before his appointment, who helped found the county's drug court, and Bernhardt, who was a public defender for 16 years and served as an assistant attorney general, are running as a ticket. The two have accepted campaign contributions from lawyers and special interests, but they said they will not look at the donor lists.

Becker said there are checks in place to maintain ethics of judicial rulings - such as campaign finance records - that enable trial lawyers to ask for a review if they feel the judge is not impartial. Becker and Bernhardt said that if a conflict would arise, they would offer to recuse themselves from a trial.

According to campaign finance reports, Becker and Bernhardt have raised almost $70,000 to Titman's $15,000.

Titman, who came in third in last month's separate Democratic and Republican primaries, remains on the general election ballot because he was a nominee of Maryland's Libertarian Party.

The two incumbents say that while Titman has questioned their Circuit Court experience, they have judged hundreds of cases during their 14 months on the bench, and have developed a track record that he lacks.

"If you give the voters a choice from a person who is a judge and one who has not been a judge, I don't see why you choose a person you are unsure about," Bernhardt said.

Another of Titman's aggressive campaign tactics involves his use of a routine letter of recommendation from Becker for his consideration of appointment to the Circuit Court in early 2005. Titman claimed the letter showed Becker was endorsing him for election over Bernhardt, which Becker strongly denied.

In addition, Titman filed nine complaints with Howard County officials in September, claiming that Bernhardt and Becker's campaign signs were too close to the street, in violation of county law.

Bernhardt said he was contacted by state highway officials about the violations and the signs were moved promptly.

"In singling us out, he is creating issues that do not exist and that was distracting from things that need to be talked about - things like our background, qualifications and what we can do to better the community," Bernhardt said.

Titman said that if he is elected he would like to increase mediation in civil cases, and make use of a drug court to provide treatment for addicted defendants.

"Mediation should be more frequently used," he said, where an attorney is trained in resolving differences between people in a civil case. The point would be to free judges to work on more difficult cases.

Becker, also an adjunct law professor at University of Baltimore, said voters should choose him because he has the most experience. He said with his more than 15 years in District Court and his success in founding the District Court's first Drug Court he has proven his knowledge of the law and ability to make a difference.

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