Court vacancy draws 9 applicants

State's Attorney McCrone is among candidates for circuit opening

October 28, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

A vacancy on Howard County's Circuit Court bench has attracted nine candidates, including county State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone.

"I didn't expect Tim [McCrone] to put in for the job, and I also didn't expect at least one of the District Court judges to put their name in," said Jason Shapiro, chairman of the county's judicial nominations commission.

Gov. Martin O'Malley likely will appoint a Circuit Court judge to fill the vacancy left by retiring Judge Dennis M. Sweeney by Dec. 7, the date the appointee must file to run for office in next year's presidential primary, said Shapiro.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of inaccurate information provided to The Sun, the filing deadline for a vacancy on the Howard County Circuit Court published in Sunday's Howard section was incorrect. The date is Dec. 3.The Sun regrets the error.

District Court judges handle misdemeanors and traffic cases. A move to Circuit Court, where the most serious crimes and civil lawsuits are tried, would be considered a promotion.

Circuit Court judges are first appointed by the governor and then run for a 15-year term against new challengers or ones whom the governor passed over.

Voters sometimes disagreed with the governor's choice. In 1996, then-District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman defeated Donna Hill Staton in a battle that centered on qualifications and race. During her brief time on the bench, Hill Staton was the county's first black judge.

As governor, Parris N. Glendening appointed Staton and now-Circuit Court Administrative Judge Diane O. Leasure to Circuit Court posts to add more women and minorities to the bench.

Leasure won and is now seeking a promotion herself to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis, the state's second-highest court. Leasure is one of 29 people who have applied for the job.

"Oh my goodness, what a list," Leasure said of the applicants. "I love writing. I love the academic aspects of the law. I'd like to have the additional challenges that go along with that job."

In Howard County, a 13-member nominating panel will meet Tuesday to interview the candidates for Sweeney's job and will forward a pared list of nominees to O'Malley, who must choose one from them.

"I want the best," Shapiro said. "The marriage between the bar association and a judge lasts longer than most real marriages. Whomever we get, I want to be sure we can live with them for the next 15 years."

If McCrone were to get the post, the Circuit Court would appoint someone to fill the rest of his term, which ends in 2010.

The other applicants for the position are Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy; Circuit Court masters William Tucker and Elaine Patrick; and lawyers David Titman, Gabriel Terrasa, Robert N. Keehner, Ricardo Zwaig and Paul M. Vettori.

Sweeney will continue to oversee cases until Nov. 30. He already is writing a guest column on jury trials for The Daily Record and plans to work part time, both mediating cases and sitting on the bench for three months of the year, the maximum time allowed.

Sweeney, a former deputy attorney general, said the high-profile murder cases he presided over are the most memorable. One that came to his mind was the carjacking death of Pam Basu, whose trial prompted Congress to pass a carjacking law.

"These cases, they stick with you," Sweeney said. "You go around the county and you see various places that are innocuous, but [they] are the [places] where you know a horrible murder happened, or another horrible crime. They become sort of monuments in your memory of tragic circumstances."

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