Gov. Parris N. Glendening has named members of a commission to screen candidates for Howard County's judgeships, signaling that relief is on the way for a court system troubled by delays brought by two judicial vacancies.
The appointments to Howard County's Judicial Nominating Commission were announced Friday along with Mr. Glendening's appointments to similar commissions for Baltimore and all other counties in Maryland.
The governor has said he hopes to have Howard Circuit Court's two new judges named by October. One opening came from a retirement, the other from the addition of a fifth judgeship to the county Circuit Court.
News that the governor has appointed the commissions brought sighs of relief in Howard County's legal community, with many lawyers complaining that delays in the selection process have caused too many cases to be postponed.
"I'm just excited that we're going to get started," Howard State's Attorney Marna McLendon said Friday. "But there's going to be a difficult period before there is relief. We still have October and November to get through."
Despite signs that the judicial appointments may be made soon, it could take months before the new judges will be working at full speed to help the Circuit Court recover from the backlog that has developed, Ms. McLendon said.
She noted that many cases postponed because Howard Circuit Court's three judges could not get to them during the last five months will compete for what little trial time is left apart from two lengthy murder trials and two complex civil trials slated for this month and October.
Baltimore and each Maryland county have separate 13-member commissions to screen judicial candidates. Nine members of each commission are named by the governor and four are elected by bar associations.
The Howard County commissioners appointed by Mr. Glendening Friday are:
* Ann M. Balcerzak, a Columbia attorney.
* D. Ronald Brasher, principal partner DR Brasher Architects Inc. in Columbia.
* Tobey Brehm, an Ellicott City lawyer.
* Ozea Brooks, president of Benefits Agency Group Inc. in Columbia.
* David Carney, a partner at the law firm of Reese & Carney in Columbia. He will serve as the commission's chairman.
* J. P. Blase Cooke, president of Thomas P. Harkins Inc. in Columbia.
* Traci Dove of Ellicott City, legislative outreach coordinator for the National Association of Counties.
* Doris Ligon of Columbia, executive director of the Maryland Museum of African Art.
* Dennis Parra of Columbia, a mathematician with the National Security Agency.
They join four lawyers elected by members of the county's Bar Association last month: James K. Eagan III, Margaret Richlin and Barry Silber of Columbia; and Fred Howard Silverstein of Ellicott City.
Each commissioner will serve four-year terms.
Mr. Glendening said in a written statement that the appointments are part of his efforts to select judges who reflect the state's diversity.
"In selecting the commission members, we tried very hard to have a membership which reflects the wonderful diversity of this state," the governor said. "The appointments we made will lay the groundwork for the selection of a first-rate judiciary."
With the statewide appointments, Mr. Glendening increases the number of women and minorities participating in the judicial process -- with minorities rising from 21 percent to 35 percent, and women increasing from 44 percent to 46 percent.
Of the governor's nine appointments for Howard County, six are white, two are black and one is Latino.
Of the three attorneys among the governor's nine appointments, none is a minority member. And, all four lawyers elected by the bar association are white.
Despite the racial and gender concerns raised by the governor ** and community activists, the number of minorities and women on the Howard County commission increases by two positions, compared with the commission under former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Doris Green Walker, an attorney with Howard County's Legal Aid Bureau, said Friday she's disappointed that no minority attorney was among those appointed to the Howard commission.
"I wonder whether or not it's going to be enough to make a difference," she said of the four women and minorities named to the Howard panel.
The new county Circuit Court judgeship created in 1994 originally was expected to be filled as early as February of this year. Then Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. retired in March, creating a second opening that was expected to be filled by the summer.