Presidential election the key for 2 federal judgeships


The fate of two Republican lawyers nominated for federal judgeships in Baltimore may ride with President Bush's re-election bid.

Bethesda lawyer William D. Quarles and Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine J. Armentrout are among 50 judicial candidates awaiting confirmation, a Senate Judiciary Committee aide said. But the committee, which sends candidates to the full Senate for confirmation, is expected to forward only eight to 10 nominees during the four-week session that begins Sept. 8, the aide said.

Mr. Quarles and Mrs. Armentrout could be scrapped from the list if they are not confirmed before Congress adjourns in early October and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton is elected.

Second District Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican who nominated the two, complained that the committee, led by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., has dragged its feet.

"The process is very slow, and obviously it's becoming very political," Mrs. Bentley said. "They should lay politics aside and get these two very qualified candidates confirmed."

She also said Maryland's Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, should use their influence to help the nominees.

But while neither senator has objected to the nominees, according to their spokesmen, a Sarbanes aide said the senator did all that should be expected. Some Democrats blame the GOP for the delay. They note that Mr. Quarles was selected June 2 to fill a post vacated by Senior Judge Alexander Harvey II in March 1991, and Mrs. Armentrout was chosen June 23 to fill a post left by Senior Judge Norman P. Ramsey last December.

The Judiciary Committee aide said the panel has acted on 55 judicial candidates this year and is on pace to reporting on the most ever during an election year in which the president and the Senate majority are from different parties.

Mr. Quarles, 44, who would be the third black member of the federal judiciary here, is a partner in the Washington law firm of Venable, Baetjer, Howard and Civiletti. A former assistant U.S. attorney here, he has served as a law clerk to Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard. He received a unanimously-qualified rating from the American Bar Association's judicial screening committee.

Mrs. Armentrout, 51, a former associate at Venable, Baetjer and Howard in Baltimore, is regional coordinator of the Mid-Atlantic Organized Crime Drug Task Force, which tackles major drug organizations. She successfully prosecuted one of the area's biggest drug distributors earlier this year. She received a majority qualified rating from ABA's screening committee.

If confirmed, the pair would fill two of the three vacancies. The court now is operating with seven full-time judges instead of 10, and is handling the caseload with the help of semiretired senior ++ judges.

Chief Judge Walter E. Black Jr. said the shortage of judges will begin to strain the court when activity picks up this fall. "We are going to be hurting, no question about it," he said.

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