Touting their broad experience and even temperaments, 15 lawyers have lined up with the hope of becoming Howard County's fifth Circuit Court judge.
Two county District Court judges, a county public defender, a federal prosecutor and two assistant state attorneys general are among those on the list of judicial candidates released by the state Administrative Office of the Courts Friday.
"It's a real varied field," said Fred Howard Silverstein, an Ellicott City attorney who is a member of the governor's commission that screens judicial applicants. "It gives us a lot to compare."
The fifth county Circuit Court judgeship was established to keep up with Howard's growing number of civil and criminal cases, which has more than doubled since 1981, the year the county got its fourth judge.
The position is one of two judgeships to be filled in Circuit Court this year. The second appointment will be made to replace Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr., who is retiring in May.
Circuit Court judges handle extensive civil lawsuits, felony criminal cases, divorces, custody disputes and child-support cases.
Jonathan Scott Smith, a Columbia attorney and another member of the governor's commission, said candidates need to have an excellent knowledge of the law, extensive courtroom experience, a good disposition and community involvement.
He said that the 15 candidates claimed these attributes at length on their applications to the commission.
Howard State's Attorney Marna McLendon said some candidates may have applied for the position, knowing that they may not get the appointment but hoping it will better their chances for future judgeships.
"Often it takes more than one try to get a judgeship," she said. "People want to get their names in now. It helps them in the future."
Legal sources say two of the front-runners are Louis A. Becker and Lenore R. Gelfman, who now are judges in the county District Court, which handles mostly minor civil and criminal matters.
Up from District Court
Circuit Court judges are often appointed after serving on the District Court bench, including Howard Circuit Judge James Dudley, who was appointed in 1988.
Two other strong contenders -- Gary Eugene Bair and Cecilia Januszkiewicz -- work at the state Attorney General's Office, where Howard Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney worked before he was appointed in 1991.
Other leading contenders are said to be Neil Edward Axel, Bernard Anthony Raum and Louis P. Willemin, all lawyers who have applied for Circuit Court judgeships in the past.
The selection process starts this week with each candidate being interviewed by a committee set up by the county Bar Association. The full membership of the association will vote on the candidates next week.
The results will be provided to the state Judicial Nominating Commission, which will interview each applicant and provide Gov. Parris N. Glendening with a list of the most qualified candidates by April 12.
Governor Glendening then will interview the candidates favored by the commission, select one of them or request a new list of candidates if he is not satisfied with the choices. There is no deadline.
The new judge, who will have an annual salary of $89,000, must be elected to the post in the first election after his or her appointment. Once elected, the appointee will serve a 15-year term.
A list of the judicial candidates in alphabetical order follows:
* Neil Edward Axel, 45, of Columbia's Kings Contrivance village. He's a private attorney who handles all types of cases, from traffic to criminal and civil cases.
* Gary Eugene Bair, 44, of Ellicott City. A former public defender, he now is chief of the 15-member criminal appeals division of the Maryland Attorney General's Office.
* Louis A. Becker, 51, of Ellicott City. He has been a Howard District Court judge for 5 1/2 years. Before that, he was a private attorney handling civil and criminal cases.
* JoAnn Cornelia Woodson Branche of Columbia could not be reached for comment. A private attorney, she lost her bid to unseat Circuit Judge James Dudley in his 1990 retainment election.
* Harvey Ellis Eisenberg, 45, of Ellicott City, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office who handles tax, drug and criminal cases. He was coordinator of a task force aimed at organized crime and drug offenses in the Mid-Atlantic region.
* Lenore R. Gelfman, 46, of Columbia. She has been a District Court judge for 5 1/2 years. Before that, she was a private attorney and a prosecutor in Baltimore.
* Jo M. Glasco, of Columbia's Oakland Mills village. She's a private attorney who handles mostly civil and domestic cases. ,, She also has served as a staff attorney with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Department of Justice.
* Cecilia Januszkiewicz, 45, of Columbia's Long Reach village, where she heads the village board. She's an assistant attorney general representing the state Office of Budget and Fiscal Planning.
* Robert Norman Keehner, 41, of Allview Estates in Columbia. He's a former county prosecutor who now has a private practice that specializes in family law and criminal cases.
* Diane O. Leasure, 42, of Ellicott City. President of the Prince George's County Bar Association, she has a private practice in Lanham that focuses on corporate cases.
* Linda Sorg Ostovitz, 38, of Ellicott City, a private attorney who handles mostly criminal and domestic cases. A former county prosecutor, she formed the State's Attorney's Office's victim-witness program.
* Bernard Anthony Raum, 50, of Columbia's Owen Brown village, a Master in Chancery for 13 1/2 years in Howard, one of two such positions overseeing all juvenile and domestic cases. He's a former county prosecutor and had worked at the state Attorney General's Office.
* Donna Hill Staton, 37, of Clarksville, a private attorney who practices in Baltimore and handles mostly commercial cases, such as contract disputes. She also is a member of the state Attorney Grievance Commission.
* David Alan Titman, 47, of Columbia's Wilde Lake village. He's a former state and federal prosecutor who is now a private attorney handling mostly civil cases.
* Louis P. Willemin, 41, of Columbia's Hickory Ridge village. He's been a public defender in Howard County since 1978. He also had a private practice and is president of the Howard County Bar Association.