On September 14, when Maryland's primary election takes place, sitting judges in three judicial circuits are being challenged and face contested judicial elections. In Anne Arundel County, Judges Laura Kiessling and Ronald Jarashow face one challenger; in Baltimore County, Judges Jan Alexander, Sherrie Bailey, Ann Brobst and John J. Nagle III face one challenger; and in Cecil County, Judge V. Michael Whelan faces two challengers. The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) has announced its support of these sitting circuit court judges.
MSBA has a strong, long-standing tradition of supporting sitting judges. For 30+ years, the Association has been committed to the principle that the selection of judges must be dedicated to placing and retaining persons of the highest quality of character, integrity and judicial temperament on Maryland's bench. All sitting judges are carefully screened and qualified then selected and appointed by the Governor of Maryland. The above sitting judges have been vetted and appointed to the circuit court on the basis of their merit and have earned the confidence, respect and support of the Bar. Therefore, MSBA is endorsing the sitting judges in, respectively, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Cecil Counties.
The Association favors the merit selection of judges because it promotes judicial accountability and places the most qualified judges on Maryland's bench. The sitting judges named above 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 MSBA's judicial committee, as well as those from local and specialty bar associations. For over 30 years, MSBA has consistently supported the merit selection of judges and opposed contested elections.
MSBA opposes contested judicial elections on political, campaign, judicial independence and monetary grounds. The Association would like to see politics removed from Maryland's judicial selection process. These elections inadvertently transform judges into politicians and push them into the fray of politics. This threatens the independence and impartiality of Maryland's Judiciary and erodes the public's trust and confidence in our legal system.
Contested elections 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.
Judicial contested elections are confusing to the public. Most citizens do not know who the sitting judges are and may vote for circuit court judges simply 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.
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, who must honor the Judicial Canon of Ethics and remain silent.
This is why MSBA supports the merit selection of sitting judges. MSBA has endorsed Judge Laura Kiessling and Judge Ronald Jarashow in Anne Arundel in Anne Arundel County; Judge Jan Alexander, Judge Sherrie Bailey, Judge Ann Brobst and Judge John J. Nagle III in Baltimore County, and Judge V. Michael Whelan in Cecil County.
MSBA also supports the evaluation process these sitting judges went through, involving careful consideration of their experience, judicial qualifications and judicial temperament, so they could earn the confidence, respect and support of the public. To preserve Maryland's tradition of judicial excellence, MSBA strongly supports these sitting circuit court judges.