Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed four Circuit Court judges in three counties yesterday, including historic choices for Howard County: the first female Circuit judges, one of whom is the first black on the court.
Diane O. Leasure, former president of the Prince George's County Bar Association, and Baltimore attorney Donna Hill Staton are the first women to be named Circuit judges in Howard. Ms. Staton will become the county's first black Circuit judge.
Others appointed to Circuit judgeships yesterday were attorneys Steven Chappelle in Charles County and Thomas E. Marshall in Harford County.
The governor also reappointed Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III in Washington County.
The Howard appointments are in line with the governor's decision to increase diversity within the judiciary, spokesman Ray Feldmann said.
Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Glendening appointed a woman and a black to Circuit judgeships in Anne Arundel County, a move touted by Mr. Feldmann as the first step in the governor's plan to better diversify the courts statewide.
In a news release yesterday announcing the Howard appointments, Mr. Glendening said, "We have opened the system by selecting these two first-rate quality people."
Since the retirement of Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. last spring, Howard has been limping by with three Circuit judges. It had been seeking a fifth Circuit judge for a decade, but the spot remained unfilled for eight months while the governor named a new nominating committee with an eye toward diversity.
Howard attorneys will "greet these appointments with enthusiasm," predicted David C. Hjortsberg, vice president of the Howard County Bar Association. "These are two outstanding appointments from a very, very highly distinguished list of candidates."
Administrative Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. praised the new judges, calling them "experienced trial lawyers with excellent legal backgrounds."
Not everyone was pleased with the governor's choices.
"I am personally very disappointed," attorney Malcolm Kane, who is unrelated to the administrative judge, said of the Howard County appointments. "I don't think it reflects at all the will of county attorneys. The Howard County bar is going to be very unhappy. I hope someone will run against them in the primary."
Ms. Leasure, Ms. Staton, Mr. Chappelle and Mr. Marshall will have to be confirmed by the voters in their counties next year. They will have to run in the March 5 primary and again in the FTC Nov. 5 general election.
Until yesterday, all of the Howard county's judges were white. Judge Lenore R. Gelfman of District Court was the county's only female judge.
Ms. Leasure, a 15-year Columbia resident who specialized in complex civil litigation for the Prince George's law firm of Fossett and Brugger, said she is "pleased and honored" by her selection.
Ms. Staton, who works for Piper and Marbury, has lived most of her life in Howard County and now resides in Clarksville. She said she is "thrilled and honored" by her selection and is "very happy about the confidence the governor has placed" in her.
Harford's Mr. Marshall, an attorney with a practice in general business and civil litigation, said he has "aspired to do judicial work" and is "very pleased" that the governor has selected him.
He said his appointment was in no way tainted by the governor's having named John E. Kelly to the Harford Circuit Court bench and Mr. Kelly's subsequent decision not to accept the appointment.
"After naming Mr. Kelly, the governor had encouraged me to seek any vacancy in the future," the Bel Air resident said. "Mr. Kelly is a friend and a very competent lawyer. I'm sorry that he felt he had to decline the appointment."
Before entering private practice, Mr. Marshall was an assistant attorney general, serving as special counsel to the State Roads Commission.
He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Maryland Bar Association and past president of the Harford County Bar Association.
Mr. Chappelle, who was appointed to the bench in Charles County, was a partner in the law firm of Vallario, Collins and Chappelle, where he specialized in criminal law, domestic and family relations, and personal injury cases.
"I'm the big loser -- he's been with me 13 years," said Mr. Chappelle's law partner Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat who is head of the House Judiciary Committee in the General Assembly.