Judicial choice spurs protest

Panel member vows to resign over Miller judge nomination

nepotism is alleged

May 23, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,SUN REPORTER

The nomination of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s son for a District Court judgeship is prompting a vow of resignation from at least one member of the Anne Arundel County Judicial Nominating Commission and raising old questions of nepotism and political interference.

Thomas V. Miller III, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Parole Commission, was passed over by the 13-member nominating commission in February when he applied for one of three vacant positions. But after Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, issued an executive order in April requiring all such panels to produce at least three nominations per vacancy, the commission voted Wednesday night to recommend Miller and four other previously rejected candidates for a spot on the bench.

"He would never have been treated seriously if he hadn't been Mike Miller's son," said Annapolis attorney Paula J. Peters, who told The Sun yesterday that she would resign from the commission because of the nomination, after serving more than two decades on the panel.

Peters said she had been lobbied by "political people" to vote in Miller's favor this week, but felt that his having only practiced law for four years disqualified him as a serious candidate for the bench. She declined to name those who had lobbied her on Miller's behalf.

In an interview, Miller, 41, said he has become accustomed to people second-guessing his qualifications and said he worried that suggestions of patronage would hurt his prospects for winning appointment from the governor.

"I know it's going to hurt my chances," Miller said. "I have nothing but respect for everyone that was on the commission. ... I thought my work over the last 12 years on the parole board shows them that I do have experience."

The Senate president, often called the most powerful Democrat in Maryland, angrily dismissed any suggestions of patronage as the work of "political enemies" and said yesterday that he has "never, ever" discussed his son's career ambitions with O'Malley.

"I feel like my son is being used here, and it's very unfortunate," he said. "He was a better scholar than myself in college, a better athlete. He's much more compassionate than myself, and he'll be a better judge than I would be."

Miller's appointment at the age of 29 to the Parole Commission in 1996 also raised eyebrows in Annapolis, where his father headed the political body that confirmed the selection. At the time, Miller, a 1992 graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, was working at his father's law firm in Clinton.

Before that, Miller was an assistant public defender in Prince George's County, where he litigated felony and misdemeanor trials. He holds an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Maryland.

Today, Miller is the third most-senior member of the Parole Commission, which decides whether to release eligible inmates from prison before their sentences are finished. He also hears cases involving parolees charged with violating terms of early release, which Miller says has given him ample preparation to preside over trials.

His boss agrees. "I've been nothing but impressed with him," said Parole Commission Chairman David R. Blumberg, a Republican. "He's thoughtful, he's fair and well- reasoned, he takes a moderate approach, and he doesn't come in with preconceived notions."

Miller makes $86,000 at the Parole Commission; Anne Arundel District Court judges earn about $120,000, according to state personnel records.

District Court judges are appointed to a 10-year term and do not face election. They typically decide nonfelony criminal cases, serious traffic offenses, some domestic violence cases and relatively minor civil disputes.

Rachel McGuckian, a Rockville attorney and co-chairwoman of the Maryland State Bar Association Judicial Appointments Committee, said, "There's no question in my mind that he will be an excellent District Court judge." McGuckian emphasized that she was speaking personally and not on behalf of her committee, which vets all candidates for judicial office statewide.

The current chairman of the Anne Arundel judicial nominating commission, Thomas J. Fleckenstein, disputes Peters' suggestions that the panel's decision to recommend Miller this week after initially rejecting him was influenced by political meddling. But Fleckenstein said that lobbying by members of the legal community is an accepted part of the nominating process.

"Each member of the commission was lobbied by a variety of interests, both in favor and against every candidate," he said.

Paul J. Weber, an Annapolis attorney on the commission who recused himself from the recent votes because a member of his law firm was a judicial candidate, said O'Malley's order that they expand their initial list of nominees doomed Miller to trial-by-rumor.

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