Westminster Common Council President Damian L. Halstad has declined his appointment to the Carroll County Circuit Court bench, noting political conflicts the nomination has caused in the community.
The attorney, who is a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican county, made the surprise announcement last night during a meeting of the Westminster Common Council. Council members had shown up last night expecting to set a date to replace Halstad.
Halstad, 38, was the youngest of five nominees to the post when he was appointed Oct. 13 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He was to succeed Judge Francis M. Arnold, who stepped down in June at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
In a prepared statement, Glendening said he was sorry to hear of the withdrawal.
"Mr. Halstad indicated that he placed the quality of law and the integrity of the bench above partisan politics," said Glendening, who said he will review the qualifications of other candidates and name a replacement by week's end.
Last night, Halstad said his appointment had sparked division in Carroll legal and political circles. Although appointed by the governor, Halstad would have faced a primary election in March and a general election in November 2000 to keep the judgeship.
Republicans promised a bitter fight and Halstad said he feared that an unqualified person might be elected in a partisan battle.
"I told the governor that since my appointment to the Circuit Court, the legal and political community has become increasingly divided on the issue, to the point where a bitter, contested judicial election appeared inevitable," Halstad said.
Halstad has a civil law practice in Westminster. He has served as a clerk for Carroll Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore and as a settlement master, assisting the court in a program to resolve civil cases before they go to trial.
He was one of five Westminster attorneys interviewed by Glendening for the judge's position. Their names were culled from a list submitted by the judicial nominating committee in August.
The other four were Democrats Michael M. Galloway and Fred S. Hecker, Independent Charles M. Preston and Republican Thomas F. Stansfield.
Halstad, who acknowledged a long-standing desire to join the bench, said he would support whomever the governor appoints in his place. Halstad arrived at the meeting more than an hour late because of a hurried meeting with Glendening.
"I'm also happy to report I will continue as president to the Westminster City Council," Halstad said.
With that, the council moved onto issues of rezoning and community development ordinances.