When Judge Richard S. Bernhardt ran for election to a 15-year term as a nonpartisan Circuit Court judge in Howard County a year after then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed him to the bench in 2005, he talked about his experience as a judge and attorney, not individual cases.
But it's tough decisions like the one Bernhardt made recently to send 16-year-old Darnell Rasheen Furby back to juvenile court that gives voters a chance to consider the quality of their selection.
Furby was one of three youths charged as adults with attacking and robbing a private security guard near the Long Reach Village Center May 13, though Furby is not suspected of firing a gun or of physically hitting the victim. Multiple shots were fired, but they missed the 27-year-old man, whom one youth hit in the mouth with his fist. The guard's car was broken into and rifled for spare change. Furby had been out on bail since the incident, though Bernhardt ordered him taken into custody and detained until a hearing before a juvenile master. The other two youths charged are awaiting trials this fall.
Russell Swatek, elected in April as Long Reach's representative on the Columbia Association Board, said he was nearby that night and heard the shots. Crime at or near the village center was a frequent topic among citizens as he campaigned, he added.
"The No. 1 issue that people brought up all the time was crime and graffiti. Many people won't go to that village center. Obviously, it is a very big issue," Swatek said.
So Bernhardt was faced with a tough choice.
What do you do with a rebellious teenager who with his friends is frightening the public and hurting a community? Do you expose him to adult prison to protect society at the risk that his bad choices could turn him into a life-long criminal? Or do you give him one more chance as a juvenile to straighten himself out?
State juvenile services worker Jennifer Littlejohn testified that Furby completed two state juvenile programs last summer after he got into trouble for drugs and driving without a license, and that they have more ways to try to help him, including placement in a residential school if needed.
"He presented as a respectful young man to me," she said. He has a concerned father and mother and if he stays in the community, he will attend the county's Homewood School for disruptive students, and not return to Long Reach High, where he was cited 14 times last year for cursing at teachers, refusing to listen and being disruptive.
Assistant State's Attorney Colleen McGuinn argued to leave Furby to face adult charges.
"He was part of that mentality of surrounding the car and banging on the car and going after a person," she said. "Bullets were fired at a person. It doesn't get much more serious than that."
County police officers Dante Peluso, who is assigned specifically to Long Reach, and Jose Marichal, testified that Furby, a slim youth with long dreadlocks who sat silently next to Tae Kim, his attorney, is always found with members of a gang calling itself the Cutthroat Committee.
"Initially, our contacts weren't very pleasant," Peluso said.
But he talked to Furby's father some months back, and that changed.
"To me, he's been pretty much respectful" since then, though he still sticks close to the gang members. Marichal, who often patrols the area on a bicycle, said he's tried to chat with Furby about sports, girls, school, but the youth, who is often nearby when he makes a traffic stop and makes his presence known, "stares us down."
Kim argued for juvenile court.
"Darnell Furby's involvement in this case was peripheral at best. He was really being around the car and maybe inside the car at some point," he said. Kim said he, too, had been in trouble as a 16-year-old, and had been arrested once, though now he is an attorney.
Bernhardt explained his thinking.
"Mr. Furby has seemed to take it on himself to ruin his life in the past year," he said, but "can he stop acting like a thug and a crook and an adult criminal and start acting like a teenager again? Why should I think he's capable of that?"
Ultimately, however, Bernhardt appeared to agree more with Littlejohn and Kim.
"I just don't think Mr. Furby is broken beyond repair at this point," the judge said. "Mr. Furby is certainly amenable to being respectful and staying on the good path," the judge added, noting that there is still time for juvenile authorities to work with him before he turns 18.
"Up until his junior year, we don't know a lot about him. There really isn't anything about Mr. Furby until you get to this year that makes him any different than any other child. Then the wheels fall off the wagon," Bernhardt said.
He added, however, that Furby "needs to be separated from the community" and should be detained and off the streets until the juvenile authorities hold a hearing.
McGuffin leaves committee
Tony McGuffin, who headed the county Democratic Party during the 2006 elections, and whose house in the Ellicott City historic district took a bullet during the sometimes-tense 2004 presidential contest when he was the committee's vice chair, has resigned from the local party state central committee. He offered a "no comment" as to why.
Meanwhile, the party is seeking a replacement and leaders are accepting applications through Sept. 2, according to current chairman Michael C.A. McPherson.