2nd member of judicial panel vows to resign

Nomination process for district judges is flawed, attorney Powers contends

May 24, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

Another member of a judicial nominating commission has pledged to resign over the panel's nomination of the son of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and others for District Court judgeships after they had been rejected.

Attorney Eileen E. Powers said yesterday that she plans to submit her formal resignation letter next week to Gov. Martin O'Malley with Paula J. Peters, who said Thursday that she would resign after serving more than two decades on the panel. While Peters said she was disturbed by political meddling on behalf of Thomas V. Miller III, the powerful Democrat's son, Powers said she decided to resign because she believed that the process was flawed.

The Anne Arundel County Judicial Nominating Commission selected five nominees from a pool of applicants for three judicial vacancies, but it had to deliberate again and choose more nominees when O'Malley issued an executive order requiring at least three nominations per vacancy. Commission members met again this week and selected Miller and four other candidates they had passed over for the original nominee list.

Powers said yesterday that while the second set of nominees did receive majority votes from the panel, some of them are not qualified to be on the bench. She declined to say which ones she felt didn't meet the criteria.

"In my opinion there is more than one person on that list who should not be, and that scares me," said Powers, who is serving her first term on the commission. "There's an inherent conflict in being told to nominate only the most highly qualified and being told you will find nine people to be the most highly qualified. What if 20 people apply, and they are all first-year lawyers?"

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the Democratic governor asked for additional nominees so that he would have a "sufficient" pool to choose from when making the appointments. Abbruzzese said that the executive order applied to all nominating commissions, and he noted that one county panel had submitted one nominee for one vacancy.

Thomas J. Fleckenstein, chairman of the Anne Arundel commission, called the flap "a tempest in a teapot." He denied that there was a "political fix" and said that disagreements over a nominee's qualifications are to be expected.

Other members of the nominating commission declined to comment yesterday or could not be reached. Powers and Peters said that at least one more member might resign, but they declined to name the person.

Peters said this week that Miller would not have been considered seriously as a candidate if he were not the Senate president's son. She said that while Miller has served 12 years on the Maryland Parole Commission, he has practiced law for only four years. She said she had been lobbied by "political people" to vote for him, though she would not name them.

Powers said she was not lobbied by anyone on Miller's behalf.

Miller, 41, says his father's position in the state legislature might have been a hindrance because he has had to overcome perceptions of favoritism. His father has denied that he lobbied the governor on his son's behalf and this week dismissed any suggestions of patronage as the work of "political enemies."

The panel chose the nominees from among 31 applicants.

Powers said she understands the governor wanted to avoid being hamstrung by short lists, but she said O'Malley could have selected from a holdover pool of nominees recommended by the previous commission. picked by former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. She said that pool of three nominees included "highly qualified" candidates.

O'Malley plans to interview each judicial nominee, Abbruzzese said, and expects to make an announcement regarding the appointments in the coming weeks.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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