Baltimore County

A contest for circuit judge in Harford

Harford County voters will be voting for Circuit Court judge in a few weeks, but one of the candidates is angry about the whole selection process for the position.

When the governor appoints a new circuit judge, as happened in January when he selected Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen, the new appointee must stand for election to secure the full 15-year term.

Candidate H. Edward Andrews III, a Bel Air lawyer, said Monday he is angry at Bowen's appointment by Gov.Martin O'Malley. Bowen became the second woman to serve on the Harford circuit bench when she was sworn in Jan. 27.

"The theme of our campaign, which is really a crusade, is 'Your choice, not the governor's,'" Andrews said. "This election is not about me, it's about the system and how bad it is ... How do you select someone who has been a part-time prosecutor and you [select] them over [Harford State's Attorney] Joe Cassilly or [District Judge] Vic Butanis?" Cassilly and Butanis were among several applicants for the judgeship that went to Bowen.

Andrews, who has been practicing criminal and civil law in Harford County since 1983, nevertheless said he is not personally against Bowen.

"I don't dislike Beth Bowen. This is all about getting the right person for the job," he said, adding he is very confident about the election.

"I am going to win this election," he said. "I have a lot of good people who feel the way that I do. They are fed up, quite frankly... This is something I have to do. I am the most qualified candidate."

Circuit judge candidates are crossfiled in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, which are coming up on April 3. The candidates don't run as affiliated with either party, and if different candidates win each primary, they will face off in the November general election.

If a single candidate wins both primaries, he or she will appear on the November ballot unopposed, except for the possibility of a write-in opponent.

Unseating a sitting circuit judge in Harford is difficult. It's been done once since the Civil War, in 1954, and in those days voters in both Baltimore and Harford counties, which make up the Third Judicial Circuit, had a say in the proceedings. That's no longer the case, as only voters from Harford decide the election for their county's circuit judges.

County circuit judges can be opposed in an election by any lawyer who lives in Harford and is a member in good standing of the Maryland Bar Association.

Fixing the process

Andrews, who has run unsuccessfully for judge before, said the campaign is not about him but about fixing the selection process.

"Let the people in Harford County decide who their job will be," he said.

Joe Snee, a Bel Air lawyer who is managing Bowen's campaign – as he has done for many sitting judges in the past, disagrees with Andrews' assertions.

He said Bowen was a full-time prosecutor for 29 years, and has had serious accomplishments like founding the board of court-appointed special advocates and creating the Child Advocacy Center in 1993.

Snee said he has been the campaign chairman for every sitting judge since the 1980s and already has 1,000 signs out for Bowen around Harford County.

"It's going very well, especially considering it's such a short sprint from the time Judge Bowen was sworn in," he said. "We have a great committee, we have a great tradition of the Harford County electorate supporting the sitting judge."

Snee said Bowen is the most qualified candidate.

"She tried every serious felony case before circuit court juries," he said of the judge's long service as a prosecutor.

The third candidate in the race is Steven J. Scheinin, of Fallston, who has undoubtedly been running for judge, as long as Snee has been managing the campaigns of many of Scheinin's opponents.

Scheinin said he has had 35 years of experience as a trial lawyer in Harford County and has also practiced throughout the state.

Scheinin, a volunteer firefighter in Fallston, has run "a couple of times" previously, he said, adding that the only advantage Bowen has is the appointment from the governor.

"If you are going on experience, I am more qualified," he said.

Other county judges and the expiration dates of their current include Chief Judge William Carr, 2017; Judge Stephen M. Waldron, 2021, and Judge Angela Eaves, 2023.

Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr.'s term expires in 2015; however, he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next February.

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