Six nominated for new seat on Circuit Court


Six people were nominated yesterday to fill a new spot on the Howard County Circuit Court, including two District Court judges and a public defender.

The Howard vacancy is one of four bench openings in Maryland that Gov. Parris N. Glendening must fill in the coming weeks. Vacancies here and in Washington, Charles and Harford counties offer the new governor his first shot at shaping the Maryland judiciary.

"This is an excellent field from which to select," said Jonathan Scott Smith, a Columbia attorney who is a member of the 9th Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens judicial applicants for Howard County and makes recommendations for filling bench vacancies.

The nominating commission, which interviewed the 15 candidates, recommended these people for the judgeship, which pays $91,700 annually:

* Neil Edward Axel, 45, of Columbia, a private attorney with a varied practice.

* Louis A. Becker, 51, a Howard District judge for 5 1/2 years and Ellicott City resident. Before that, he was a private attorney handling criminal and civil cases.

* Lenore R. Gelfman, 46, a Howard District judge for 5 1/2 years and Columbia resident. She has also been a prosecutor and private attorney.

* Diane O. Leasure, 42, of Ellicott City, a private attorney who specializes in corporate law. She is president of the Prince George's County Bar Association.

* Bernard Anthony Raum, 50, of Columbia, a Howard County Master of Chancery, which oversees juvenile and domestic cases, for 13 1/2 years. He also has experience as a prosecutor and in the attorney general's office.

* Louis P. Willemin, 41, of Columbia, a county public defender since 1978. He also has a private practice and is president of the Howard County Bar Association.

"There is a great deal of diversity on this group," said Mr. Smith, the nominating commission member. "If anything, the governor's difficulty will be narrowing the field down to just one person."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Glendening said it was too early to tell when the governor planned to review the nominations and make a decision on the appointment.

Mr. Glendening doesn't have to interview the nominees, nor does he have to make a decision within any set period of time.

But he is supposed to select a nominee from the list provided by the Nominating Commission, as long as it has sent the minimum number of names -- in Howard County's case, three. The maximum number to be submitted is seven.

Those passed over by Mr. Glendening will automatically be renominated for any vacancies on the county court within a year.

An opening will occur next month, when Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. retires.

The current bench opening is the result of an expansion of the bench from four judges to five. That was done by the General Assembly to help the court keep pace with a caseload that has doubled since 1981 -- the last time a bench seat was added to the county Circuit Court.

Circuit judges, who preside over cases ranging from violent crimes to complex civil suits, are appointed for 15-year terms.

But they must defend their seats in the first general election that comes at least one year after the appointment. The next general election will be in November 1998. Judges must retire at age 70.

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