The candidates for two Harford County Circuit Court judgeships in the November general election are, clockwise from left, Diane Adkins Tobin, Thomas Ashwell, Judge Paul Ishak and Judge Lawrence Kreis.
The candidates for two Harford County Circuit Court judgeships in the November general election are, clockwise from left, Diane Adkins Tobin, Thomas Ashwell, Judge Paul Ishak and Judge Lawrence Kreis. (The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

One of the races drawing the most attention in the election that begins with early voting Thursday, Oct. 25, is the four-candidate race for two Harford County Circuit Court judgeships.

There are two sitting judges – Paul Ishak and Lawrence Kreis. There is one candidate – Diane Adkins-Tobin - who showed well in the primary. And the fourth candidate – Thomas Ashwell – is a Libertarian and as such was precluded from being on the primary ballot but allowed by law to appear on the general election ballot.

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In the primary, Ishak and Kreis, finished in the top two spots in the Republican primary and Adkins-Tobin and Ishak were the top two vote-getters in the Democratic Primary. In Maryland, if either of the two candidates had finished in the top two spots in each primary, they would have been elected after the primary votes were counted.

Since the same two candidates didn’t, there’s been a well-contested campaign with Ishak and Kreis running as a ticket of sitting judges and Adkins-Tobin being cast as an interloper, a candidate who changed her name so it would appear first on the ballot (oft times seen as an election advantage) and a candidate who had plenty of chances to be appointed by a governor, but wasn’t.

As Harford judical race heats up, candidates stress qualifications but politics looms in background

The same three candidates in the primary election race for two Harford County Circuit Court judgeships will square off again in the November general election, with a fourth candidate added to the mix in a race that is being closely watched locally for its political and judicial implications.

As we look at the race, we don’t see Ashwell as a serious threat to win one of the two seats. Not being in the primary is one drawback we don’t see him overcoming.

When it comes to the other three, Ishak and Kreis are billing themselves as incumbents whose stature as sitting judges should give them an advantage when it comes to adjudicating justice. Their supporters portray Adkins-Tobin as a rube not yet worthy of the robe of one of their judges.

Perhaps, but neither Ishak nor Kreis have been on the bench all that long. Ishak was appointed almos 22 months ago. Kreis came later and was appointed almost 13 months ago.

Harford's next state's attorney [Editorial]

One thing is for certain with the upcoming general election on Nov. 6, Harford County voters will be choosing a new state’s attorney for the first time in 36 years.

It’s unusual in Harford County to have two judges seeking election, which is essentially the voters confirming them to 15-year terms, with so little time on the bench. So while the term incumbent in this race is accurate, it’s far from decisive.

What should, and will, decide who gets the next 15 years as a judge in the Circuit Court for Harford County are the voters. How the candidates fared in the primary election shouldn’t be discounted. Ishak, one incumbent, won the Republican primary and Adkins-Tobin won the Democratic primary. Kries, the other incumbent, was second among Republicans and third among Democrats.

We endorse Ishak’s candidacy and believe he was a terrific choice by Gov. Larry Hogan. A Harford County native, he has been active in the community, particularly as a volunteer firefighter with the Susquehanna Hose Co., in his church and in various organizations as a supportive parent.

For the second seat, we are less certain.

Adkins-Tobin winning the Democratic primary — which means she’s well-known, or well-liked, or well-qualified or a really good campaigner or some combination — can’t be ignored.

What also can’t be ignored are the judicial accomplishments and qualifications that led Gov. Hogan to appoint Kreis over all others, including Adkins-Tobin.

Perhaps, Adkins-Tobin wasn’t appointed because, as she claims, she was an outsider without enough political muscle to win an appointment. Perhaps, Kreis was appointed instead because he has the best legal mind and temperament for the job.

We encourage votes for Ishak and leave the decision on whether Adkins-Tobin or Kreis joins him on the bench solely to the voters.

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