In the name of the father

Our view : Judicial selection process takes a hit

May 30, 2008

Being the son of state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller might land you a judgeship. Then again, it might not. Gov. Martin O'Malley's recent request to expand the pool of nominees for an Anne Arundel District Court judgeship for which Mr. Miller's son was an applicant opened the process to charges of political favoritism. That's an inauspicious way to fill a judicial vacancy, even a seat on Maryland's entry-level court.

Thomas V. Miller III, a lawyer and member of the state Parole Commission for 12 years, wasn't included in the initial list of five nominees recommended by the county judicial nominating commission to fill three vacancies. And it should have ended there. But Mr. O'Malley then asked that candidates who had been passed over be reconsidered, and he wanted at least three names per vacancy, as directed in a March executive order. The panel voted again and sent five additional names to the governor, including Mr. Miller's. But three commission members, including two O'Malley appointees, have since resigned, saying the nominating process had been tainted.

Governors have rejected lists outright before, and many political colleagues and cronies - too many to list here - have been nominated and appointed to judgeships in the past. But Mr. O'Malley's request that the commission reconsider candidates who didn't win its initial vote of confidence unduly biased the Arundel selection. Whether the 41-year-old Mr. Miller is qualified for the job or not is beside the point now. What father wouldn't defend his son? But the elder Mr. Miller would have served his son's interest better if he had chosen not to comment on the issue - a hardship for the Senate president, we know. The younger Miller should reconsider a judgeship for now.

The Maryland bar and, more important, the public must be confident that the process to pick state judges is primed to select the most-qualified candidates, not those most closely tied or related to powerful officials. A lack of confidence in the judicial system can have serious implications for plaintiffs and defendants, for those charged with crimes and victims of crime, and for justice itself.

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