Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

October, 2004

Third Party Candidates Challenge Sitting Judges
~Incumbents face contested elections in Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties next month~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

When Montgomery County Circuit Court Judges Marielsa Bernard, David Boynton, Dennis McHugh and Katherine Savage ran unopposed in the primary election last March, they, along with the general public and legal community, thought there would be no contested election. Most people assumed since these sitting judges were not challenged in their quest to retain their seats on the bench in the primary election, they would not face a challenger in Maryland’s general election. However, these sitting judges now find themselves mired in a contested election next month. They are being challenged by Daniel Patrick Connell of the Libertarian Party, who filed as a candidate on June 28, 2004.

A similar situation has occurred in Anne Arundel County. Judges David S. Bruce, Michele D. Jaklitsch and Rodney C. Warren of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court ran in a contested election in the March primary. The sitting judges came away from this contest knowing they faced two Republican challengers, Paul Goetzke and Paul Harris, in November’s general election. However, these sitting judges now have an additional challenger. Stephen P. Beatty of the Libertarian Party, who filed on June 18, 2004, is running against all of the county’s judicial candidates next month.

Although both Democrats and Republicans must nominate judicial candidates in Maryland’s primary election, a peculiarity in Maryland’s election law allows third parties to nominate candidates to appear on the general election ballot without having to first run their candidates in a primary election. In addition, unaffiliated petition candidates can get on the general election ballot by submitting a petition that meets specified requirements.

To complicate this situation, incumbent judicial candidates only appear on the ballot by their name; they are neither listed as judges nor incumbents. The sitting judges will not be designated by party affiliation or as candidates of the Democratic or Republican Party on the ballot, nor will the respective Libertarian candidates.

Maryland’s legal community is concerned that this new development in judicial contested elections will confuse voters in both jurisdictions. The public will have no way of determining who is a judge and who is not from the names listed on the ballot. Many voters are not well acquainted with the names of their current circuit court judges and are unaware of this turn of events. Plus, some voters simply cast their ballots in alphabetical order, which could prove devastating for sitting judges with names toward the end of the alphabet.

The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) has announced its support of the sitting judges in Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County Circuit Court. On September 21, 2004, MSBA’s Board of Governors endorsed these esteemed members of the bench who have earned the confidence, respect and support of the Bar.

For 30 years, MSBA has supported the merit selection of judges and opposed contested judicial elections. Sitting circuit court judges have been through and successfully completed intensive interviews, evaluations and selection processes prior to appointment by the Governor. Their skills, judicial temperament, qualifications and merits have been demonstrated to independent judicial nominating commissions. Their challengers have not been through this process, so their credentials have not been evaluated and the voters have no way of assessing these critical traits.

MSBA does not favor contested elections because they pose many conflicts of interests and ethical dilemmas for sitting judges. Contested elections cast shadows of impropriety and place sitting judges in the fray of partisan politics. They also force circuit court judges to campaign and raise money.

Campaigning and fundraising pose problems for sitting judges. Many judges are not well known outside of legal circles and must campaign to gain visibility and public recognition. Campaigning requires a great deal of time for sitting judges who are handling busy court dockets.

This entire campaigning process takes months, and sitting judges in Anne Arundel and Montgomery County only recently became aware of third party challenges, which places them at a distinct disadvantage this late in the process. Plus, there is little time left to alert and educate the public about this situation.

The Committee to Retain the Sitting Judges of Montgomery County is currently conducting a comprehensive public education campaign to alert the legal community and the public about this new development. This Committee intends to promote the names of the sitting judges for public recognition and bring the issue to the attention of voters.

MSBA firmly believes the selection of judges must be dedicated to placing and retaining persons of the highest quality of character, integrity, judicial temperament and learning on Maryland’s bench. These esteemed members of the bench have earned the confidence, respect and support of the Bar. MSBA supports the sitting judges in Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: October, 2004

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