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Adkins-Tobin gets on November ballot to oppose sitting judges

For the first time in many years, Harford County voters will have a general election choice to make for Circuit Court judge, as four candidates will be on the November ballot for two judgeships. Challenger Diane Adkins-Tobin finished first in on of the primary races Tuesday.
For the first time in many years, Harford County voters will have a general election choice to make for Circuit Court judge, as four candidates will be on the November ballot for two judgeships. Challenger Diane Adkins-Tobin finished first in on of the primary races Tuesday.(Aegis file/BSMG)

All three candidates in the race for Harford Circuit Court judge who were on Tuesday’s primary ballot will be back on the general election ballot in November, after a challenger to two sitting judges finished well enough to deny them outright victories.

Diane Adkins-Tobin, a deputy state’s attorney for Harford, carried the Democratic primary with 8,566 votes, ahead of incumbent Judges Paul Ishak, 6,498 votes, and Lawrence Kreis, 5,199 votes, based on unofficial returns from Tuesday.

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Ishak led the Republican primary voting votes with 11,164, with Kreis receiving 9,540 and Adkins-Tobin 7,180.

The top two candidates in each party primary get onto the general election ballot, and these three will be joined by Thomas Ashwell, a public defender, who was nominated by the Libertarian Party.

A sitting judge has not lost an election in Harford County since 1954, and it still may be a longshot for Tobin, or for Ashwell, because Ishak, who is from Havre de Grace, and Kreis, who is from Bel Air, were appointed to the bench by Gov. Larry Hogan.

With 90 of 93 precincts reporting Tuesday, Adkins-Tobin was the second highest combined vote-getter, though that has no bearing on whose names appear on the November ballot.

Applications are due next Wednesday to replace Harford County District Court Judge Victor Butanis, who retired earlier this year.

Ishak was the leader overall with 17,662 total votes, with Adkins-Tobin at 15,746 and Kreis at 14,739. Absentee and provisional ballots were due to be counted Thursday and July 5, but there aren’t enough of them to have a bearing on the order of finish in either of the judicial primaries.

“I’m very excited about the results and very excited about, at this point, being second overall,” Adkins-Tobin, sitting on the deck of her Fallston home watching as the results came in, said Tuesday night. “I knew the voters of Harford County would appreciate having a choice for judge. I ran on my credentials, I ran on my record and I’m looking forward to continuing the race into November.”

She said she wasn’t surprised to be carrying the Democrats, as both Ishak and Kreis were appointed by the Republican Hogan. Adkins-Tobin was a finalist for both of those judgeships and three others before them.

“I spoke to a lot of Democratic groups and they were very receptive to my message that they should have the opportunity and say in how judges are on the bench in Harford County,” Adkins-Tobin said.

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Tuesday’s result bodes well for her in the general election, she said.

“Now that Independents will be allowed to vote, I believe they will also be receptive to my message that voters have the right to choose who sits on the bench,” she said, offering thanks to all the voters who have supported her so far in her campaign.

Harford County had almost 180,000 active registered voters at the end of May, 35,000 who are not affiliated with any party. Those voters could not participate in the primary election, which was only open to the county’s 140,000 registered Republicans and Democrats.

Ishak said Wednesday the primary results were “somewhat predictable.”

“We knew we had a general election to run anyway,” Ishak said. “I thought [Adkins-Tobin] would definitely get in one of the positions where we would have a general. I think most everyone expected that. We knew there would be at least three and odds were there were going to be four.”

He doesn’t anticipate any significant changes to the general election campaign. He and Kreis will continue to run as a sitting judges slate, he said.

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“As sitting judges, you have to run it the same way, which is to be non-partisan, show impartiality and be completely independent,” Ishak said. “You have to do your best to do that, it’s our job duty to do that.”

Kreis said he is thankful “for all the people who came out and helped us and voted for us.”

“It’s an honor to be appointed and supported by the governor and an honor to serve Harford County,” Kreis said. “We’re looking forward to moving forward to the general election.”

Harford County voters turned out to polling places around the county Tuesday to cast ballots for Republican and Democratic nominees for governor, state legislative seats and county offices, including state's attorney, county executive and county council.

The tallies for the races on each side weren’t surprising to Kreis.

“No one goes into anything not wanting to be first, every candidate wants to come in first on both sides,” Kreis said. “The judicial election process is unique like no other out there. You always know when you’re picking two on two sides of the possible results.”

His goal, and Ishak’s, in the general is to continue to get their message out to all voters in Harford County, that “we will continue to serve with integrity, impartiality and independence.”

They’ll keep pushing it, he said. “and come November, we look forward to continuing in office.”

Circuit judges are required to stand for election after they are appointed by the governor and may be challenged by any attorney in good standing who resides in the county.

Judicial candidates file in each primary and if the same candidate wins both, then the contest is decided. This year was a rare one in which two sitting judges had to run on the same ballot, as Ishak was appointed to the bench in December 2016 and Kreis in October 2017.

The last time a sitting judge lost a seat in Harford County, Judge D. Paul McNabb was defeated by Stewart Day in the 1954 general election, after Day had finished first in the Democratic primary and McNabb first in the Republican primary.

In those days, Harford and Baltimore counties were in the same judicial circuit and voters in both counties could participate in the judicial election, even though the candidates had to be Harford residents because there was only one judgeship in Harford. Day and three other lawyers opposed McNabb, a Democrat who was appointed by a Republican governor.

Off his strong showing in Baltimore County, Day got the Democratic nod in the primary and then easily beat McNabb in the general, again with a strong vote from Baltimore County, while McNabb carried Harford with its smaller number of eligible votes.

Staff member Allan Vought contributed to this report.

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