Does anyone else find it hard to believe that this is 1991 and Carroll County does not have a female judge?

Not on the Circuit Court bench. Not on the District Court bench.

Are none of the female lawyers in the county qualified to become a jurist?


Are none of them interested in administering justice?

Hard to believe.

But the fact is that until last month, no female attorneys had submitted their names for vacancies on either of Carroll's benches. And, certainly, they've had several opportunities in recent years:

* In 1989, a third circuit judgeship was created. No woman applied. Then-state Sen. Raymond E. Beck was appointed by the governor.

* In 1990, Circuit Judge Donald Gilmore retiredfrom the bench. Once again, no woman applied. District Judge FrancisArnold was elevated to the higher court.

Finally, when applications were taken for Arnold's former position, four women were among the17 hopefuls. Hampstead attorney JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones, Towson attorney Carol L. McCulloch, Baltimore City attorney Carolyn Jean McElroy and Senior Carroll Public Defender Martha Ann Sitterding each submitted answers to a 42-question form and were interviewed by the state Judicial Nominating Commission.

For the first time, the commission had an opportunity to take a step toward ending the male-dominated county judicial process.

And it did.

When it announced its nominees for the vacancy, the names of five men and one woman were forwardedto Gov. William Donald Schaefer. While some observers had expected Sitterding -- a highly respected attorney -- to be nominated, they were pleased that Ellinghaus-Jones made the cut.

While several have their law practices in other parts of the state, all are residents of Carroll County, as required by law.

The 13-member panel also sent the names of Westminster attorneys Wesley D. Blakeslee, Marc G. Rasinsky, Charles M. Preston, Frank Douglas Coleman and Melvin Michael Galloway to the governor. The District Court position -- vacant for the first time in 10 years -- pays $82,300 a year.

Now the matter is in the hands of the governor, who has no time limit in which to make his decision. Whoever is nominated must close his or her practice within 30 days.

District Judge Donald M. Smith is eager to have a second jurist on the Carroll bench again. Fortunately, the nearly eight-week vacancy hasn't created a major backlog of cases, thanks to the help of visiting judges.

Still, the sooner the governor fills the post, the better. And diversity on the bench would be better yet.

Schaefer has the opportunity to make history in Carroll County, to bring our judicial system into the 20th century, as we approach the 21st.

Although Blakeslee, Rasinsky, Preston, Coleman and Galloway all are qualified for the job, Ellinghaus-Jones is worthy of the judgeship.

The 34-year-old has worked in Hampstead attorney Elwood Swam's office since 1983. Before that, the Baltimore native was a clerk for Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., at which time she moved to Carroll County.

At Swam's office, she is in the same position that Arnold occupied before he was appointed to the bench. She said she wants to follow in his footsteps.

"I think I have a variety of experiences that would bring a new perspective to the bench," she said.

Ellinghaus-Jones graduated cum laude from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1981, and summa cum laude from the University of Baltimore with an undergraduate degree.

She has worked on many criminal cases,including several involving domestic violence, was the town attorneyfor Manchester and has worked on a variety of civil cases.

That gives her a diverse background to bring to the bench, a clear asset.

So, governor, the gavel is in your hands.

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