EDITORIAL: Anne Arundel voters, look carefully at the Circuit Court judicial race

| October 24, 2016
Blackwall Hitch

animated-voteOn Election Day, you will have a choice to select four Circuit Court judges. Four of them are already Circuit Court judges and have been appointed by both Governors O’Malley and Hogan. All of the candidates are legally qualified to be a judge. But there is a glitch.

One candidate, an Anne Arundel County resident, is a sitting Administrative Law Judge in DC; while the other four are sitting here in Anne Arundel County.

Four of the judges are Republican and are running together as a slate–or a team if you will. They are “Hogan Endorsed” and are hoping to retain their seats. Perhaps there is strength in numbers. Their names are Klavans, McCormack, Schaeffer, and Vitale.

The other is a lone-wolf Democrat. She does not have the endorsement of the sitting Governor. She also is disputing an ethics violation lodged by Ron Jarashow, a former Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge (who was part of a slate last time around) who lost his job and returned to private practice.  Her name is Claudia Barber.

While justice should be blind, you’d have to be blind to not see the politics at work here.

Admittedly, the way Maryland selects judges is crazy. They are initially vetted by a politically partisan panel. Then they are selected and seated by the Governor in a partisan selection. At the next election, they run a political race to retain the seat for a period of 15 years. And here we are.

Back in 2010, Judge Alison Asti was the outsider running against a slate of judges. She bucked the system and won the seat from Ron Jarashow–the same one behind the effort to disqualify Barber. One of the arguments made in 2010 was that Asti had never tried a case in Anne Arundel. In 2014, the Daily Record named Asti as one of the Top 100 Women in Maryland. I am sure she had a learning curve when she took the bench as would anyone–as did the four sitting judges when they took the bench.

We have seen our share of looney judges in Anne Arundel County. A man guilty of molesting his own child, and that of a neighbor, was sentenced to 6 months home detention (yes, the same home) with liberal leave to go to work as a realtor when and as needed. Another man convicted of assault was given $20 by a judge and told to take a bus to Baltimore and to not come back. A third judge ruled that an inmate who smuggled a knife into prison was entitled to use it to kill another inmate because he felt imminently threatened and not be additionally charged with murder.  Dig deeper and these stories abound.

I personally am friends with one of the sitting judges and have researched Judge Barber and believe them all to be able to do the job. My issue is the politicization of the race. Will a Republican defendant/donor receive disparate treatment in front of the court when a full third of the court will be represented by the slate? Will an attorney that donated and campaigned for the slate (many are because they see them as a sure thing) see more favorable verdicts for their clients? It is hard to say; but an attorney friend of mine indicated his support was mostly because he was likely to appear before them. You decide.

What is not hard to say is that politically, four of the candidates are aligned. It is not unreasonable to feel they have similar mindsets when it comes to the issues. With four same-minded individuals, will someone be able to get a truly fair and impartial trial?

Maybe. Maybe not. I am opposed to slates and teams because I want a diverse bench. I want men and women. I want black, white, hispanic and Asian. I want old and young. I want left leaners and right wingers. In a word,  I want diversity. With the slate, I am just not seeing it.

We can get rid of a bad legislator or governor in 4 years. With the judges, we have them for 15 years to interpret and opine on the laws and cases that come before them. This, is perhaps one of the most important offices a voter must choose. Choose wisely.

We typically do not endorse candidates at Eye On Annapolis and we will not be endorsing any in this election either. However, I do encourage you to learn about the five judges that are running for four spots. Take some time in the coming days to inform yourself.

You can select one, two, three or four judges when you vote. The top four will get a seat on the bench for the next 15 years.

As I said I am looking for diversity on the bench. Barber may not have the bench experience in Anne Arundel, but Asti has proven that it may not be critical. I may not agree with Barber’s political leanings (I likely don’t), but she will earn one of my votes because my vote is for diversity.

Remember, early voting begins on Thursday. Please vote!

 

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About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news–and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009.

John’s background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.