Senate delays vote on Arnick judgeship Public jams Senate telephone lines to voice outrage, question process

With public sentiment running against John S. Arnick and his legislative support eroding rapidly, the state Senate last night postponed its vote on whether the former delegate should remain a Baltimore County district judge.

Mr. Arnick requested the postponement in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., saying, "I have nothing to fear from further investigation and welcome a vigorous independent inquiry from the Senate committee."


Sen. Michael J. Wagner, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said the panel would hold a third hearing on the nomination, probably later this week.

"I think he knows that for him to have any chance of confirmation, we have to have further hearings," Mr. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel, said. "The public outcry is for more investigation, and that is what we're going to do."


Even before those developments, it became increasingly clear yesterday that the Arnick nomination is in jeopardy.

After a week in which in most legislators initially seemed to circle the wagons to protect one of their own, public reaction to Mr. Arnick's appointment -- and to the Senate's confirmation process itself -- seemed to hit hard in Annapolis.

Telephone lines to the State House complex lighted up with thousands of calls throughout the day, and senators reported nonstop calls to their homes over the weekend, almost all of them questioning Mr. Arnick's fitness to be a judge or complaining about the Senate's handling of the confirmation process.

At least five senators who were in Mr. Arnick's camp as recently as Friday said yesterday they were now opposing the nomination. All 10 women in the 47-member Senate were either against the nomination or wanted it investigated more thoroughly.

In his letter to the Senate, Mr. Arnick asked that a vote on his confirmation -- which had been scheduled for today -- be postponed until all witnesses who want to testify can be heard and all allegations against him can be aired and a reply made. Mr. Arnick has been accused of using language and displaying behavior offensive to women.

Senate President Miller said Mr. Arnick's request for further investigation "doesn't mean [his confirmation] is dead. It means it's sinking rapidly." Mr. Miller, D-Prince George's, has been among Mr. Arnick's staunchest supporters.

Mr. Arnick was appointed early last month by the governor and was sworn to the bench Jan. 27, pending confirmation by the Senate.

If the Senate should reject the 59-year-old Dundalk lawyer for a full 10-year term in the $82,300-a-year job, he would become the first District Court judge to fail to win Senate confirmation in Maryland since 1968.


The questions

What was expected to be a rubber-stamp confirmation ran into trouble a week ago when Judith A. Wolfer, a Takoma Park lawyer, charged that Mr. Arnick made vulgar and demeaning remarks to her and Nancy J. Nowak, then an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, during a dinner meeting a year ago. Among other statements, she said Mr. Arnick referred to women as "lying bitches."

The two women were lobbying Mr. Arnick, then the House Judiciary Committee chairman, on behalf of domestic violence legislation.

Even though Ms. Nowak subsequently corroborated -- in a written statement -- Ms. Wolfer's account, the Executive Nominations Committee voted 14-4 Friday to recommend that Mr. Arnick be confirmed by the full Senate.

Since then, however, questions have arisen about:

* Why Ms. Nowak failed to appear in person at the Friday hearing and whether she may have been discouraged from doing so by members of the Senate or their aides.


The Sun reported Sunday that Ms. Nowak, now director of parole and probation for the state, had been prepared to tell the Senate that Mr. Arnick frequently referred to her as a "blond bimbo" or as a "dumb blond" in front of other lawmakers.

She also had been prepared to testify that Mr. Arnick would engage in occasional and unwelcome rubbing of her neck when she approached him to discuss pending legislation involving domestic violence, The Sun reported.

Last night, before the Senate went into session, Ms. Nowak met with several senators at the office of Senator Wagner, the nominations committee chairman.

"I told the senators the truth," she said after the meeting, refusing to elaborate. "They seemed very interested in what I had to say."

She did say that if there are further hearings, she would be willing to testify.

"I was always willing to cooperate in any way," she said. "It was just not clear to me what the committee wanted me to do."


* Whether Mr. Arnick was truthful in his testimony under oath that he could not recall precisely what was said during the dinner in question, and that he never realized after the incident that anything he had said had troubled Ms. Wolfer or Ms. Nowak.

However, Del. Kenneth Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, has said he spoke with Mr. Arnick about the incident days after it occurred, and Ms. Wolfer said she stood at Ms. Nowak's side as she later discussed the incident with Mr. Arnick by telephone.

Ms. Nowak would not say if what she told the senators last night contradicted the testimony of Mr. Arnick. "I think that is for them to decide," she said.

The General Assembly switchboard reported about 2,500 calls yesterday alone, more than double a normal day's tally of about a thousand. An operator there likened it to the kind of public outpouring that accompanied controversial abortion and tax legislation in the last couple years.

Yesterday, the Public Justice Center, a nonprofit legal group that represents battered women, began airing radio advertisements opposing Mr. Arnick's confirmation. Ms. Wolfer was representing the group at the time of the dinner with Mr. Arnick last year.

"How would you feel going before a judge who thought women were 'lying bitches?' " begins the 60-second ad, which was airing two to four times an hour on WCBM radio in Baltimore. "Putting Mr. Arnick on the bench would be a mistake," the spot adds, urging listeners to call the Maryland Senate and giving a phone number.


"They must be getting a phenomenal response," an advertising staff member at WCBM said yesterday afternoon. "They've just increased their buy."

Kathy Shulman of the Public Justice Center said, "We're really running the ad to encourage citizen participation. The situation in Annapolis today is very fluid."

But even before the ads began airing at 10 a.m., something was happening.

Public outcry

Office after office in the Senate reported 40, 60, 100, even 200 calls, virtually all of them against Mr. Arnick. Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who initially defended Mr. Arnick, said the public outcry turned her into an opponent.

"I was overwhelmed. My phone mail filled up twice. I got more than 100 [calls], almost completely against. Only about three for," she said, adding that her phone "rang off the hook all weekend, home and work, everywhere."


She and other senators said the volume of calls may have been larger with hotly contested issues such as abortion, but usually those calls reflected a coordinated telephone campaign.

But this was not organized, she said.

"It's so amazing because it is obviously not organized," said Carolyn Rodis, administrative assistant to Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County.

"It's just regular people calling up because they are outraged."

Before the General Assembly convened its regular night session last night, some protesters arrived in the State House sporting circular homemade lapel badges with Mr. Arnick's name and a slash through it.

Groups standing against the Arnick nomination now include the Public Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women's Law Center, affiliates of the National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, the Women's Bar Association, the Baltimore City Commission for Women and the Maryland Commission for Women.


'Unethical behavior'

Meanwhile, Roberta Roper, who became a victims' right advocate after her daughter Stephanie was killed, complained about Mr. Arnick's "unethical behavior" in a letter to Senate President Miller. Mrs. Roper enclosed a copy of a letter she sent last April to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. complaining that Mr. Arnick opposed victims' rights legislation, which easily passed the House, by delaying the appointment of a conference committee.

"We believe that Del. John Arnick's behavior over this bill was unconscionable and a dishonor to the House of Delegates," Mrs. Roper wrote in her letter last year to Mr. Mitchell.

'Media hysteria'

In his letter to Senator Miller, however, Mr. Arnick protested what he called "the unfair, unprecedented media hysteria being generated by some groups opposed to my nomination."

"This is not the deliberate process which the framers of our Constitution envisioned," he said. "This atmosphere is not fair to me, my family, the Senate, future judicial nominees, or those persons who have had the fortitude to come forward and testify -- both pro and con -- on my nomination."


Some senators agreed. Sen. Patricia Sher, a Montgomery Democrat, complained of a media onslaught that she described as akin to "a public lynching." But she nevertheless added her voice yesterday to those calling for a fuller investigation of the complaints.

Mr. Arnick spent the day in Annapolis and was thought to be consulting on his strategy with House Speaker Mitchell, D-Kent, who has backed his nomination. Spotted on the street shortly before the Senate session, Mr. Arnick declined to answer any questions and hurried to a parking garage.


Robert A. Zarnoch, chief counsel for legislation in the office of the Maryland attorney general, said postponing a vote does not change Mr. Arnick's status as a judge for now.

His commission as a judge runs at least 90 days, until the end of the legislative session, Mr. Zarnoch said. If confirmed by the Senate, he can then serve a 10-year term.

Even if the governor withdraws Mr. Arnick's nomination, the Senate tables the nomination or the Senate rejects his name outright, Mr. Arnick can still serve as a judge until the last day of the legislative session, Mr. Zarnoch said. Only if Mr. Arnick resigns his commission before that will there be a vacancy.


"He is a real judge, serving a real term, until the end of the 90 days," Mr. Zarnoch said.


Following is the text of the letter John S. Arnick sent yesterday to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Dear Senator Miller:

I am writing to request that the Senate suspend consideration of my nomination to the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County in order to allow the Senate Executive Nominations Committee to conduct further inquiry and investigation.

Specifically, I request that the Senate Executive Nominations Committee obtain the testimony of any person it deems necessary to complete the record of this nomination, as well as any reply it deems appropriate from me.


I have nothing to fear from further investigation and welcome a vigorous independent inquiry from the Senate committee. The public is entitled to have confidence that the Senate conducted a full and fair investigation of my nomination. I do not wish to have a nomination that is tainted by an allegation that any person with relevant testimony was prevented or discouraged from coming forward.

At the same time, I must also protest the unfair, unprecedented media hysteria being generated by some groups opposed to my nomination. This is not the deliberate process which the framers of our Constitution envisioned. This atmosphere is not fair to me, my family, the Senate, future judicial nominees, or those persons who have had the fortitude to come forward and testify -- both pro and con -- on my nomination. I ask the members of the Senate to consider fairly, impartially and dispassionately my record and my qualifications.

I request that the additional inquiry be not only thorough, but conclusive. The current media atmosphere encourages a never-ending inquiry. For instance, this afternoon it was reported that other special interest groups that have advocated before the Judiciary Committee were raising challenges to my nomination. During my chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, we dealt with the most divisive social issues in our society, and considered the conflicting rights of many groups in Maryland. If every dissatisfied advocacy group were to come forward now, this process would never end.

It has been alleged by some groups that there has been an effort within the Senate to limit testimony before the Senate committee. I can only urge in the strongest terms that anyone with relevant testimony should come forward and testify under oath, as I did, so that the Senate can conclude its consideration of this nomination in orderly fashion and resume its regular legislative business.

I thank the Senate for its patience and its consideration and again renew my request for vigorous inquiry of any allegations left unresolved by last week's hearings. I ask only for a fair and impartial inquiry into my background, record and qualifications to be a member of the District Court.