Smith leads lawyers' poll for Circuit Court vacancy Glendening ordered results kept confidential


Columbia attorney Jonathan Scott Smith was the top vote-getter in a poll of local lawyers asked to recommend which of eight applicants should fill a judicial vacancy in Howard Circuit Court, according to referendum results released Friday.

Results of the Sept. 6 referendum were provided to The Sun by Malcolm Kane, an Ellicott City attorney who said he believes that Gov. Parris N. Glendening unfairly ordered the poll results kept confidential.

"Obviously a referendum of this nature can be embarrassing to a judicial candidate who is reviewed by her or his peers as less than qualified," Mr. Kane said in a written statement.

"However, it is my personal view that such information is very much in the public interest."

Fred Howard Silverstein, president of the Howard County Bar Association, said he's not upset by Mr. Kane's actions, but s concerned the release of the results may delay the judicial-selection process.

"I just don't want anything to upset the very slow progress we've made so far," said Mr. Silverstein, who noted that the Circuit Court has had two judicial vacancies since April.

A response from Mr. Glendening was unavailable yesterday.

Under then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the association routinely released referendum results for county judgeships. However, Mr. Glendening decided shortly after taking office that the results should be kept confidential.

The referendum is important in the selection of new judges, because the results are provided to the state Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County, a group that screens judicial candidates for Mr. Glendening.

For another pending Circuit Court vacancy, the top five vote-getters in the bar association's referendum were among the six candidates endorsed by the nominating commission.

A total of 124 Howard County attorneys participated in the referendum. They were asked which judicial candidates were "highly recommended," "recommended" or "not recommended."

Mr. Smith, a Columbia resident and former prosecutor, received 66 "highly recommended" votes -- more than any other candidate. He also received 40 "recommended" votes and eight "not recommended." Ten attorneys said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

Linda Sorg Ostovitz, an Ellicott City attorney, was a distant second. She received 36 "highly recommended," 42 "recommended" and 24 "not recommended" votes; 22 attorneys said they were unfamiliar with her qualifications.

Poll results for other candidates are:

* Sue Ellen Hantman of Columbia's Hickory Ridge: 22 "highly recommended," 53 "recommended" and 37 "not recommended" votes; 12 said they were unfamiliar with her qualifications.

* Bernard A. Cook of Dayton: 21 "highly recommended," 50 "recommended" and 22 "not recommended" votes; 31 said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

* Donna Hill Staton of Clarksville: 24 "highly recommended," 41 "recommended" votes and 29 "not recommended" votes; 30 said they were unfamiliar with her qualifications.

* Donna C. Sanger of Columbia's Kings Contrivance village: 32 "highly recommended," 31 "recommended" and 14 "not recommended" votes; 47 said they were not aware of her qualifications.

* David A. Titman of Columbia's Wilde Lake Village: 17 "highly recommended," 30 "recommended" and 32 "not recommended" votes; 45 said they were unfamiliar with his qualifications.

* JoAnn Cornelia Woodson Branche of Columbia: nine "highly recommended," 11 "recommended" and 68 "not recommended" votes; 36 said they were unaware of her qualifications.

The commission will interview applicants and provide Mr. Glendening with its list of the most qualified candidates by Oct. 9.

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