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One-fourth of candidates rate poorly Report is part of nominating process for judge; Peers vote in secret; 3 of 21 esteemed as highly qualified


A quarter of the 21 Carroll lawyers vying for a District Court judgeship aren't qualified for the bench, according to a confidential county bar association report.

The report, which lists the results of a secret ballot last month of 67 members of the 100-member local bar, shows that only three of the judicial candidates were rated highly qualified, while nine were listed as qualified.

The report listed five candidates as not qualified, while the bar members who voted said that they had no opinion or insufficient information on the ratings of four others.

J. Jeffrey Griffith, a Westminster attorney and former Democratic county commissioner, received the worst rating in the vote -- 69 percent of his colleagues called him not qualified.

Mr. Griffith said yesterday he doesn't place much stock in the ratings.

"I would have preferred that the process would require those voting would look at the whole application, resume and qualifications," Mr. Griffith said.

The county bar association rankings are only a small part of the judicial nominating process, according to court officials.

A 13-member nominating commission appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening has just begun the task of selecting between three and seven of the 21 applicants to recommend to the governor.

According to Michael O'Malley, assistant state court administrator, the commission in Carroll has yet to set a date to interview all the candidates, but he thinks that will occur late next month.

The 21 lawyers are hoping that Mr. Glendening will nominate them to fill the seat vacated in May by District Judge Donald M. Smith. The seat -- which pays $93,534 a year -- is one of 25 to be filled this year by the governor.

The nominating commission is charged by the governor with trying to increase the diversity of Maryland's bench, Mr. O'Malley said. As of April, 36 of Maryland's 240 judges were women and 29 were African-Americans.

As part of the application process -- which is to be confidential, Mr. O'Malley said yesterday -- each county bar association is asked to rate the candidates.

Three of the candidates -- Michael M. Galloway, Marc G. Rasinsky and Charles Michael Preston -- were rated highly qualified.

Nine -- J. Michael Earp, Wesley D. Blakeslee, James F. Brewer, Assistant Public Defender Judson K. Larrimore, Deputy State's Attorney Martha Ann Sitterding, Juvenile Master Peter M. Tabatasko, Damian L. Halstad, Michael S. Levin and E. Susan Miller -- were rated qualified.

The greatest plurality of voters -- 43 percent -- called Mr. Halstad not qualified, but a combination of six highly qualified and 25 qualified votes gave him a nod as one of the qualified candidates.

"Frankly, the age issue was at work here," Mr. Halstad, 34, said yesterday of his ranking. "It would be a mistake for any candidate to take these numbers personally."

Aside from Mr. Griffith, four others were deemed not qualified by the bar association -- Kelly Walfred Miller, Linda A. Holmes, Assistant State's Attorney Erin M. Danz and Dale Robertson Reid.

Bar association members said they did not have enough information or held no opinion on the fitness of four candidates -- Mark G. Spurrier, John Stanley Constantinides, Assistant Public Defender Brian D. Green, and Carroll Public Defender Barbara M. Kreinar.

County bar association rankings usually hold little sway in determining who ultimately gets put on the bench. According to the 1990 rankings, JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones -- also 34 at the time -- was rated not qualified by 40 percent of the 57 lawyers voting. But she was named to the bench to fill the seat vacated when Judge Francis M. Arnold was elevated to the Circuit Court.

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