If John Arnick spoke crudely to a woman lawyer from Takoma Park last year, his former colleague in the House of Delegates, Leon Billings, thinks he knows why.
Known in the legislature for a provocative speaking style, Mr. Arnick may have seen a chance to initiate a newcomer.
"He probably thought, 'If women want to play, then by God, they'll get a full dose,' " said Delegate Billings, a Montgomery County Democrat. While condemning the abusive language attributed to Mr. Arnick, Mr. Billings and other House members said Mr. Arnick routinely hazed lobbyists and legislators to see if they could take it.
Accused now of referring to women as "lying bitches," of using crude references to female anatomy and of telling ethnic jokes, Mr. Arnick finds himself in danger of losing one of the most coveted rewards for a long and loyal career in politics, a judgeship.
His accuser, Judith A. Wolfer, said the 59-year-old criminal lawyer from Dundalk made offensive comments during a dinner last year as she was attempting to win his support for a domestic violence bill. She made her allegations Monday before a state Senate committee deciding whether to confirm his appointment by Gov. William Donald Schaefer as a District Court judge.
The allegations, while challenging Mr. Arnick's qualifications, have also triggered a clash of sharply different cultures: the real world vs. the cushy, insulated and still male-dominated world of Annapolis, where John Arnick was a major player for almost 30 years.
The crudest language and the worst expression of male chauvinism are no longer common in the General Assembly, but they are not unheard of and they are not shocking. While lapses of taste might be condemned elsewhere, they are forgiven without a thought in the knowledge that every vote matters -- and every day brings a new issue. The legislature is a realm of infinite forgiveness, a place where grudges can be liabilities.
As unwelcome as his alleged comments were in the Assembly, John Arnick's flinty style served him well for decades.
He was the trusted ramrod of legislative business in the House of Delegates, serving as Democratic majority leader under three different House speakers. He was first elected in 1966, when few women served, and quickly became one of its most powerful delegates, a man who knew law and procedure -- and used them with surpassing skill.
Mr. Billings and others said they have no doubt that Mr. Arnick, who resigned his House seat last fall, has all the qualities of deliberation, judgment and concern for human beings that are ++ needed to make an exemplary judge.
But his language and swagger suggested just the opposite of proper judicial temperament to some. He seemed to cultivate a veneer of tough-guy impatience -- dismissing questions, walking off haughtily, trying to shock people with deliberately coarse language, according to his colleagues. His supporters often didn't approve of the way he expressed himself, but they tried to understand it.
"Does he get any credit for not discriminating in his irreverence?" asked Delegate Billings. "He was equally outspoken irrespective class, gender, race or religion," he said.
"He's from the old school," said Del. Leslie Hutchinson. "This is a citizen legislature and John is a citizen from Dundalk. He didn't go to the Gilman School. He didn't go to Princeton. He grew up in Dundalk and he doesn't put on airs."
"I have two images of him," said Del. John Gary of Anne Arundel. "One is when he was very gentlemanly with women. In other situations, he has conducted himself in a way you wouldn't want in a legislator. . . . When he's had a lot to drink he can be a nasty bastard."
"He can be profane," said Del. Robert S. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican -- who nevertheless expressed great affection for Mr. Arnick and respect for his ability. Sen. Paula Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Mr. Arnick's alleged remarks must be weighed against long years of service to the Assembly. Like Mr. Kittleman, she said, legislators were indebted to Mr. Arnick. Women often approached him for advice on how best to get bills on legal issues passed.
But other legislators said privately that they have been made uncomfortable by Mr. Arnick's style and worry that his words convey a level of hostility to women and perhaps to others.
Few of these critics have come forward, however. Mr. Arnick benefits from an ethos that makes Assembly leadership untouchable. Though he is gone, his allies and friends remain -- many of them in position to kill bills or block appointments to an important committee.
During his years as a legislator, John Arnick was a dervish of activity, a perpetual motion politician, a man who spoke so quickly he was sometimes difficult to understand. He was a sharp dresser and drove a Jaguar. And, as a committee chairman, he seemed to move legislation through at breakneck speed. His clipped and often peremptory approach to legislative life left some lawmakers feeling he moved only the bills he or the Speaker of the House wanted and ditched most of the others.
In an article in The Sun several years ago, Mr. Arnick's style was compared to a shark's. He walked into the House chamber that day wearing a baseball cap crowned with a set of cloth shark's jaws. Here was the sharp-tongued, sharp-dressing legislator at his prideful best, embracing his image as a tough, inside player.
"John thought he was bigger than the game. And to some extent he was," said Delegate Billings.
Still, Mr. Billings and others respected Mr. Arnick's ability. "Of the people I have met here, there are few minds that command as much respect as John's," he said.
What the legislative world finds most curious in the current flap is the fact that Ms. Wolfer's bill, which provided protection to battered spouses, actually passed -- and that John Arnick was its chief legislative proponent.
"He really waded in against a committee that was reluctant to pass it," said D. Bruce Poole, the majority leader and a member of the committee. Mr. Poole opposed the bill, but Mr. Arnick "thought it needed to be done then."
"The bill wouldn't have passed without John," said Robert Ehrlich.
Mr. Arnick, a Baltimore native who graduated from the University of Baltimore and its law school, began his political career in 1966. He was elected to the House of Delegates, coming up through the East Baltimore County organization run by former Sen. Roy N. Staten.
His first roommate in Annapolis was the late Thomas Hunter Lowe, who soon thereafter became House Speaker and made Mr. Arnick majority leader.
He has been chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a member of the Legislative Policy Committee, in which capacities he was an important adviser to the top legislative leadership.
With all his position and power, though, the divorced ex-Marine has sometimes seemed a lonely figure in recent years, walking by himself in the hallways of the legislative complex or on the brick sidewalks of Annapolis alone -- even dining alone.
Having once named Mr. Arnick majority leader, Speaker Mitchell demoted him in 1990, suggesting that Mr. Arnick was a bit "burned out," less predictable. Mr. Arnick didn't deny it.
Nor did he try to hide his desire to move on, confiding his frustrations to colleagues -- even to a reporter. And though he made the Judicial Nominating Commission list for Circuit Court one year, he had not been named to the District Court lists. Though theoretically beyond the reach of politics, these nominating panels of lawyers and citizens are thought to be within reach of a determined governor.
When Mr. Arnick voted against a tax bill sought by Governor Schaefer last year, Speaker Mitchell feared he would have to punish his loyal lieutenant by removing him as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. This, too, was in service to Annapolis rules: on "leadership" issues, committee chairman hew to the line of the speaker -- or lose their leadership positions.
Mr. Mitchell was loathe to do this, however, and the possibility that Mr. Arnick might finally get to the bench was revived. This time, he made the list and Governor Schaefer named him.
The Senate will vote next week to confirm or reject his appointment to the job that was to cap off his career.
WHAT THE SENATORS THINK . . . AND HOW THEY MAY VOTE
Yesterday, The Sun asked 46 of Maryland's 47 senators three questions about the Arnick nomination: Do you believe Judy Wolfer's allegations? If so, does that disqualify Mr. Arnick from sitting on the bench? And, do you know how you would vote on confirmation, given what you know as of this moment?
Overwhelmingly, the senators said they believed Ms. Wolfer, although many said they need to hear Judge Arnick's side. Only a few believed this one incident should disqualify him from sitting on the bench
As to their ultimate vote, 19 out of 46 said they were undecided or would not comment. Fourteen said they would probably vote for him, barring additional allegations. And 13 said they were firmly opposed, or inclined to vote against him.
Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's, could not be reached for comment.
The following quotes are excerpts from interviews conducted with the 46 senators yesterday."
"I'd like to wait and see what testimony comes Friday before I make my decision."
+ William H. Amoss, D-Harford
"We're having a hearing. I want all the facts. I don't like to write blank checks."
( Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil
"Do you wipe out the man's whole life for one indiscretion? I will weigh the incident against his whole life."
/# Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore
"You have to stand up sometimes and say, 'This is not acceptable.' I just think it's so important for women to support other women. And I think we ought as women legislators to be out front pushing for a very very careful examination of these allegations."
+ Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery
"I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. At a hearing like that, anything could happen,
4( F. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County
"It's only fair to wait to hear him. Until you hear his side, you don't know. If he said it, how did he say it? It's got to be put in its proper perspective. Knowing him, I know he's not that kind of person."
6* Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County
"I'm going to wait and see what the committee says and does. And then I still might have to make up my own mind."
1% Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel
"I don't know."
Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County
"Look who the U.S. Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court. A lifetime appointment. We just elected a president who has affairs."
5) George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore City
"I think [Judith Wolfer] is very credible at this point. It hasn't been contradicted."
-! Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery
"I don't necessarily say that her testimony disqualifies him. I think you have to look at the man's cumulative record."
) John W. Derr, R-Frederick
"I still can't understand why these two women put up with this. I don't think any bill is worth that."
0$ Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George's
"I can tell you right now, unless there's something new that will come out tomorrow, I'm leaning against confirmation. These actions were horrible, deplorable, degrading. It degrades us all."
) Bernard Fowler, D-Calvert
"I don't support anyone for judge who hasn't met the highest standards. You can guess which way I'm leaning."
Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery
"[My support] could change if the confirmation hearing brings forth other things, other incidents that could show a pattern."
+ John J. Hafer, R-Allegany."
"If there's enough people who come in and testify, then there's support for [not confirming]. I'm absolutely on the fence."
* Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll
"This man hasn't had an opportunity to defend himself."
Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore
"I've known John Arnick it seems like forever. He's very bright. very fair. . . . I don't think it's an easy vote for any member of the Senate."
6* Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County
R "That type of mentality could conflict with being a judge."
Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore
"Here's a man whose life could be ruined. I don't believe the guy a racist. Do you know anybody who hasn't made a joke about an ethnic group at one time?
( Nathan Irby, D-Baltimore
"Would you support him?"
0$ Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel
"It certainly raises doubts and questions [Mr. Arnick] should have chance to answer."
.' Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore
"It certainly does give me serious, serious pause and reconsideration of his candidacy. . . . The phone has been ringing off the hook."
0$ Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George's
"Yes -- if no one else comes forward."
Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery
"I don't want to go ahead and ruin his whole life if it was just one time. [But] I never would have made those remarks. I am not a vulgar man. People of the legislature now are saying words that would never have been heard 30 years ago."
Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester
"It deeply disturbs me and puts into question his temperment and judicial qualifications. Unless he was able to come forward to explain this incident, I'm going to have great difficulty voting for him."
/# Christopher J. McCabe, R-Howard
"He's always done the right thing politically. The real John is different from the personal John."
6* American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore
"I think the totality of the circumstances have to be considered, his life and all the good things he's done over 30 years in supporting women's causes, being now nonprejudiced, nonbiased in dealing with all members of the General Assembly. If I were voting today, I'd probably vote to confirm."
4( President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.,
"I believe that essentially the things she said are probably reasonably correct. But there was probably a whole lot more that went on in there. I think we need to hear from him so we can more clearly understand the circumstances."
.' Donald F. Munson, R-Washington
"I don't doubt anyone's honesty or integrity, but I think sometimes the interpretation is wrong. I don't think anyone can recall that kind of behavior from John. I wouldn't like to think an aberration should disqualify a very capable person. I would support him right now."
0$ Nancy Murphy, D-Baltimore County
"I don't believe that we can qualify or disqualify anyone for just about any position on the basis of a single incident."
5) Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's
"She's a woman of high credibility."
John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore
"They are extremely serious allegations. I think it's outrageous. But, I'm trying to keep this as objective as possible."
4( Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County
"I find it difficult to believe she would lie . . . but, I want to hear what Mr. Arnick has to say."
* Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery
"I'm extremely fond of him. No matter what he said, there is not any doubt in my mind that he has so much respect for the system, that if he were a judge and a man came in and had been beating his wife, [Mr. Arnick] would send him away for 150 years."
.' Patricia R. Sher, D-Montgomery
"I just don't know yet."
James C. Simpson, D-Charles
"I have feelings about it, but in fairness to everybody, I'm not going to say."
-! Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll
"Should Mr. Arnick's behavior disqualify him?
Would you vote for him?
/# J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset
"I don't know whether the entire statement is factual."
Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County
"If this really happened, I would have a hard time supporting him."
5) Beatrice P. Tignor, D-Prince George's
"From what I understand, he didn't touch the individual, he didn't manhandle the individual. [But] if I was on the outside, looking in, I might take a different position."
5) Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's
"How long can you let this thing fester? How long can you leave this guy sitting in the middle of the pond with people shooting at him?"
1% Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel
"Would you support him? No."
Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel
"I'm interested in people who dealt with him in the position of power, as the chairman of the committee. I don't care what happened in his private life."
* Thomas M. Yeager, D-Howard
"So far, nothing has been said to wipe out the experiences I've had with John in the last 19 years. That's what makes it so hard."
Larry Young, D-Baltimore
These senators said that based on the information available yesterday, they would vote for the confirmation of Mr. Arnick: Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County; John W. Derr, R-Frederick; Nancy L. Murphy, D-Baltimore County; Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel; Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County; Larry Young, D-Baltimore.
These senators indicated they are leaning toward confirmation: George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore; John J. Hafer, R-Allegany; Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County; Habern Freeman, D-Harford; Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's; Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery; American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore; Patricia R. Sher, D-Montgomery.
These senators indicated they were opposed to Mr. Arnick's confirmation: J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset; Beatrice P. Tignor, Prince George's; Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel.
These senators indicated they are leaning against thconfirmation: Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery; Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery; Bernard Fowler, D-St. Mary's; Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery; Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore; Julian L. Lapides, Baltimore; Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George's; Christopher J. McCabe, R-Howard; Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County; John A. Pica Jr.
The following senators said they were either undecided or wernot willing to make their positions known: William H. Amoss, D-Harford; Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George's; F. Vernon Boozer, Baltimore County; John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel; Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil; Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore; Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County; Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore; Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery; Donald F. Munson, R-Washington; Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's; Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll; James C. Simpson, D-Charles; Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's; Thomas M. Yeager, D-Prince George's; Larry Haines, R-Carroll; Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester; Nathan C. Irby Jr.; Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel."