Conveyor belt of justice Howard County: Governor must choose a judge now to avoid a backlog of cases.


JUDGE LENORE R. GELFMAN'S elevation to the Circuit Court could bring headaches to the bench she recently departed unless the governor acts soon to replace her and retired District Judge R. Russell Sadler.

The county's District Court handles an enormous load of lower-level civil and criminal cases and traffic cases, but is operating at half-speed. Two judges are doing the work of four.

Eventually, delays and postponements will come. District Judges James Vaughan and Louis Becker as well as police officers, prosecutors, other attorneys and parties are accustomed to having cases move with the efficiency of an assembly line. Without a quick fix, the conveyor belt of justice could slow to a crawl.

Judge Gelfman was sworn in on the Circuit Court bench a week ago, after a hard-fought battle. She says she expects to begin working on the top-tier trial court shortly.

The courthouse she left behind cannot rely on visiting or retired ,, judges to keep functioning. It will take a quick, decisive gubernatorial move to prevent a troubling legal logjam.

Last September, a commission sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening the names of seven nominees for Judge Sadler's position. The governor should receive the names of candidates to fill Judge Gelfman's seat early next year.

We hope balance remains important to Mr. Glendening, in spite of the defeat of the county's first African-American judge, Donna Hill Staton, in last month's Circuit Court election. She was appointed just a year ago by Mr. Glendening to answer the need for a black judge in Howard County. Indeed, diversity remains a desirable attribute for a heterogenuous community and should be a requisite for its courts.

While it may be years before an opportunity opens at the Circuit Court level, the governor has two chances to diversify the District Court. Whether the governor addresses that need with his first appointment or second is not as important as his quick selection of a nominee best prepared to tackle the court docket, given the potential for a backlog of cases there.

Mr. Glendening may want to delay a decision for political reasons, and fill both vacancies at once. But Howard's District Court, and those who depend on its efficiency, need him to fill one of those judicial vacancies now.

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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