P.G. state's attorney waits for judgeship


TC Prince George's County State's Attorney Alexander Williams Jr. says his nomination to a federal judgeship is on track, although a U.S. Senate vote on it may be delayed until early next year.

Of three people nominated to Maryland's federal bench by President Clinton in August, Mr. Williams is the only one who has not been confirmed, fueling speculation that questions have been raised about the nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is awaiting an evaluation of Mr. Williams by the American Bar Association before scheduling a hearing on the nomination.

Mr. Williams said an ABA representative assured him this week that his nomination was in good shape. But he acknowledged that ABA investigators voiced concern over the large number of cases he says he handled in his 12 years as a private attorney and public defender.

In a questionnaire submitted to the U.S. Senate, Mr. Williams stated that he represented more than 5,000 clients from 1974 and 1986, when he was elected state's attorney. He handled about 4,000 of those cases between 1974 and 1978 as an employee of the public defender's office, he said.

"They were finding it difficult to believe that in our public defender's system I had been exposed to so many cases," Mr. Williams said. "People here began wondering why the ABA finds that so unusual."

He said most of his criminal cases were in district and juvenile courts, which dispose of matters more quickly than circuit courts.

Efforts to reach Robert P. Watkins, chairman of the ABA's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary, were unsuccessful yesterday.

A state criminal-justice official, knowledgeable about Prince George's County courts, said the type of caseload claimed by Mr. Williams is high -- but entirely possible for a lawyer doing strictly casework.

Prince George's County public defenders handled an average of 409 cases each during the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the state's Public Defenders Office. Many of them devote only half-time to casework, spending the other time on administrative tasks.

"It's probably unheard of to have 1,000 murder cases, but a person could easily have 1,000 DWIs and misdemeanors in a year," said the official.

Mr. Williams, who returned last week from a trip to a school for new federal judges in Phoenix, said he expects no snags in his nomination.

"I understand that the matter has been resolved and that it's not an issue," he said.

"We're looking for my confirmation in January."

He would join U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow, who was sworn in Nov. 1, and Montgomery County Circuit Judge Peter Messitte, who will be sworn in Monday.

The bar association will judge Mr. Williams as highly qualified, qualified or unqualified when it issues its evaluation.

Legal sources say his nomination should proceed without trouble unless he is judged to be unqualified, which occurs very rarely.

A spokesman for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., who recommended the nomination to President Clinton, said the office had no indication of any trouble with the nomination.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad