The governor appointed Westminster lawyer Damian L. Halstad yesterday to fill a vacancy on the Carroll County Circuit Court bench. Halstad, 38, was the youngest of five nominees for the post.
A Democrat with a civil law practice, Halstad succeeds Judge Francis M. Arnold, who stepped down in June at 70, the mandatory retirement age within the judiciary. Halstad is president of the Westminster Common Council. He served two years on the county Board of Zoning Appeals before his election to the council in 1993.
"Damian Halstad brings public service experience, superb judgment and a brilliant legal mind to the Carroll County Circuit Court," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in a prepared statement. "He will do an outstanding job serving Carroll County residents."
Halstad and four other Westminster attorneys were interviewed in Annapolis last week. Their names were culled from a list of nominees submitted in August by the judicial nominating committee. The other finalists were Democrats Michael M. Galloway and Fred S. Hecker, Independent Charles M. Preston and Republican Thomas F. Stansfield.
"I feel very humbled," Halstad said. "I realize that youth has certain advantages, energy and longevity, but those not selected are among the best attorneys in the county.
"My goal will be to make everyone's job easier," he added. "I see the role of a judge as a problem solver."
Raymond E. Beck Sr., administrative judge for the county's Circuit Court, welcomed the appointment.
"We -- Judge Luke Burns and myself -- could have worked well with any one of the nominees," Beck said. "We're just glad the ordeal is over."
Beck and Burns, with part-time help from Arnold and retired Judge Daniel W. Moylan of Washington County, have been swamped with civil and criminal cases since Arnold ended his full-time schedule.
"They can use the help, and Damian Halstad will make a great appointment," said Edward M. Ulsch, a Westminster attorney who recalled the days when Halstad served as a law clerk for Carroll Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore.
"Damian was very intelligent and made good legal decisions," Ulsch said. "He may be the youngest nominee, but he is no rookie."
Charles D. Hollman, a Westminster attorney who served with Halstad on the Maryland Bar Association's Attorney Grievance Commission Inquiry Panel, recalled that Halstad showed a "good temperament and was interested in being fair to all concerned."
Hollman also noted that any of the nominees would have been a good choice.
"I hope the others will support him when the issue of the election comes up," Hollman said.
Halstad said he is anxious to attend an orientation for new judges and to take the judicial oath so he can get to work. He said a formal swearing-in will likely occur within a month.
Besides learning his new role, he must run in the primary election in March and the general election in November.
Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said Halstad "will be missed on the City Council, but the people of Carroll County will greatly benefit from a strong ally like Damian on the bench."
Halstad has served as a settlement master, assisting the court in a program to resolve civil cases before they go to trial.
He was involved in several political campaigns in 1994, including Glendening's re-election effort. Halstad is a member of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, Carroll County General Hospital Foundation Board, and the Carroll Lutheran Village board of trustees. He and his wife, Leigh, live in Westminster. She is an assistant attorney general for the state. They have two sons.