As the contest for Circuit Court judge heats up in Baltimore County, it is having an effect beyond the county's boundaries. Top lawyers who might be of a judicial inclination observe that eight-candidate free-for-all, in which sitting judges are forced to campaign like candidates for purely political office, and say to themselves, "That's not for me."
This deterrence is vividly seen in Baltimore City. A Circuit Court -- vacancy just opened up due to a retirement. So few applicants came forward that the nominating commission for the circuit has had to re-advertise the job.
There many be special reasons for this in the city, but the same thing happens as a general rule throughout the state. Look at the record in fiscal 1991. Ten Circuit Court vacancies occurred. Fifty-three lawyers applied to the various nominating commissions for consideration. That is about a 5-1 ratio of applicants for judgeships.
But for Court of Appeals judgeships (incumbents are not required to stand for re-election against challengers and, in effect, each other, as circuit court judges are), there were two vacancies and 18 applications. Nine to one. For Court of Special Appeals (no contested elections), the record was three vacancies, 33 applicants. Eleven to one. For the district court (no contested elections), 16 vacancies, 197 applicants. Twelve to one.
The judges of the Circuit Courts ought to be treated the same way as other state judges. This could be done with a simple change in the state constitution. Until that is done, the best way to attract more applicants for these judgeships is for voters to keep sending a message that they want to keep the courts out of this sort of politics. This they can do by supporting sitting Circuit Court judges when they are challenged.
In Baltimore County the sitting judges, all of whom are well respected in judicial and legal circles are: Thomas J. Bollinger Sr., J. Norris Byrnes, Robert E. Cahill Sr., Edward A. DeWaters Jr. and Christian Kahl. They deserve to be retained. So does Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, a highly regarded newcomer to the bench in Howard County. Likewise, Judge J. Frederick Price in Kent County deserves to be kept on the bench.