MSBA Endorses Sitting Judges
remain in Howard and Talbot Counties~
When Maryland citizens
go to the polls on November 7 to select the Governor, Comptroller, Attorney
General and numerous other candidates running in the general election, they will
also be voting for circuit court judges across the state. In two counties, they
will be considering both incumbent judges and challengers. While contested
elections were resolved in six counties during the primary election, with the
sitting judges prevailing, two contests will be decided in the general election.
In Talbot County, Judge
Sidney Campen will face challenger Jo Ann Asparagus in the general election.
While Campen prevailed in the Republican primary election ballot, Asparagus
succeeded in the Democratic ballot, so they will both run in the general
election. In Howard County, sitting judges Louis Becker and Richard Bernhardt
were both victorious, defeating challenger David Titman in the primary, but the
challenger has successfully petitioned to be included on the general election
ballot as a Libertarian candidate, so the two sitting judges will again face the
challenger in the general election.
"The Maryland State Bar
Association's Board of Governors, on behalf of our 22,100 members, has
unanimously voted to endorse the sitting judges in Howard and Talbot Counties,"
states Edward J. Gilliss, MSBA President. "Our Board of Governors is a
geographically-diverse group of 42 lawyers. It is indeed a strong statement of
support for Judges Becker, Bernhardt and Campen that the MSBA's governing body
has unanimously voiced our endorsement of these respected judges."
MSBA supports these
esteemed members of the bench, who have earned the confidence, respect and
support of the Bar. All sitting judges are carefully screened and qualified by a
Judicial Nominating Commission, then selected and appointed by the Governor of
Maryland. They reflect high quality in character, integrity and judicial
Any attorney age 30 or
over who is admitted to the Maryland Bar, has resided in the state for five
years and has lived in the specific circuit for six months can challenge a
sitting judge in a contested election. Frequently, these contenders have not
been through the extensive judicial screening process sitting judges must
undergo prior to appointment. In addition, challengers may speak freely, make
election promises, offer rhetoric that may be inflammatory or misleading and
even attack the records of sitting judges.
Although the Supreme
Court of the United States opened the gateway for judicial candidates' free
speech rights in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 in
2002, sitting judges are still bound by the Judicial Canon of Ethics. White
struck down restrictions on candidate speech that prevented judicial
candidates from announcing their views on legal and political issues on First
In Maryland, circuit
court judges are the only members of the bench who must stand for contested
elections. The Governor initially appoints all judges after the candidate has
undergone an extensive screening and evaluation process by independent judicial
nominating commissions, as set forth by Executive Orders since 1976. District
court judges serve for 10 years then may be reappointed by the Governor with
Senate consent, while appellate judges run in retention elections.
However, circuit court
judges must run in the general election immediately following their
gubernatorial appointment and then must stand for re-election every 15 years to
retain their seats. Increasingly, sitting judges in Maryland face challengers in
these elections. In recent years, contested elections for circuit court seats in
Maryland have been on the rise and some contests have become acrimonious, which
hurts the Judiciary's image.
The public often is
confounded by judicial contested elections. Most citizens do not know who the
sitting judges are and vote for circuit court judges on the basis of
alphabetical order and party affiliation rather than judicial qualifications. It
is believed some sitting judges have even lost their seats because they were at
the wrong end of an alphabetized listing on the ballot. Voting polls indicate
that party labels and ballot positions are often more significant than judicial
qualifications, an unfortunate basis on which to select circuit court judges.
Traditionally, MSBA has
opposed the contested election of Maryland's circuit court judges on ethical,
political, campaign, judicial independence and monetary grounds. Contested
elections subject sitting judges to partisan politics and force them to campaign
and raise funds to retain their seat on the bench. Considerable expense
accompanies contested elections, as sitting judges must raise money, advertise,
make public appearances and actively campaign for votes. Campaigning costs
sitting judges time which, given heavy court dockets, is at a premium. It also
costs money and can compromise their impartiality.
Contested elections also
pose ethical dilemmas for sitting judges. For one thing, Judicial Canons
prohibit sitting judges from directly soliciting campaign funds, although their
non-judicial opponents do not operate under these restrictions. In addition,
attorneys who appear before judges in their courtrooms may contribute to the
campaign, creating the appearance of and casting shadows of impropriety.
Overall, contested elections present the potential for conflicts of interest.
MSBA would like to see
politics removed from Maryland's judicial selection process. It fears these
elections inadvertently transform judges into politicians and push them into the
fray of partisan politics. This contradicts judicial ethics, threatens the
independence and impartiality of Maryland's Judiciary and erodes the public's
trust and confidence in our legal system.
Thus, the Association
supports the merit selection of judges as it promotes judicial accountability
and ensures the most qualified jurists serve on Maryland's bench. This selection
process places the most qualified judges on Maryland's bench. Sitting judges
have successfully completed a rigorous interview, evaluation and selection
process. Their skills, judicial temperament and qualifications have been
demonstrated to the Maryland Judicial Nominating Commission and frequently
MSBA's judicial committee as well as those from local and specialty bar
The state of Maryland is
fortunate to have judges with the highest quality of character, integrity,
judicial temperament and learning on Maryland's Circuit Courts. These sitting
judges are well respected and of the highest caliber; they have earned the
confidence, respect and support of the public and the Bar. To preserve
Maryland's tradition of judicial excellence, MSBA strongly supports the sitting
circuit court judges.