Nominee had low rating in survey of bar; Halstad got most 'Not Qualified' votes of court candidates; Considered too young; Lawyer is first to decline nomination since Mandel's term


A confidential Carroll County Bar Association survey ranked Westminster attorney Damian L. Halstad, who suddenly withdrew Monday from an appointment to the Carroll County Circuit Court bench, as the lowest qualified of five nominees.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Halstad to replace Francis M. Arnold, who stepped down from the circuit bench in June after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Halstad accepted the appointment Oct. 13 and then shocked the state and local legal community by declining, noting a battle promised by Republicans in the next election.

Since Marvin Mandel was elected governor in 1969, no nominee has turned down a gubernatorial appointment after it became public, said Michael V. O'Malley, spokesman for the state's Administrative Office of the Courts.

Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican, said Halstad's withdrawal was not spurred by partisan politics.

"The notion that Republicans were organizing a major attack on the governor's judicial appointee, as Damian and his supporters have suggested, is a wrong interpretation," Getty said. "What has occurred is an insurgency within the legal community -- not within the Republican community."

The results of the ballot obtained by The Sun showed 95 members of the local bar association voted in June on each of the 13 applicants. The voters could rate each applicant in one of four ways: Highly Qualified, Qualified, Not Qualified and Insufficient Information.

Halstad received 50 "Not Qualified" votes, the highest number among all 13 applicants. He received five "Highly Qualified" votes and 35 "Qualified" votes.

Frank D. Coleman, president of the Carroll County Bar Association, declined to discuss the membership's vote because it is confidential.

Confidential vote

"The vote was never intended to be made public," he said.

Publishing the results is unfair to every applicant, Coleman said, because it's a personnel matter and someone might read into it something that was never intended.

"A 'Not Qualified' vote could mean someone is not qualified to be a judge, and not that he is incompetent as an attorney," Coleman said.

A tally of the local bar's balloting was forwarded in confidence to the governor and the judicial nominating commission.

William O. Finch Jr., a Westminster attorney who is a member of the judicial nominating commission, also declined to discuss the commission's reasons for including Halstad's name on the list of five nominees that was submitted to the governor.

In contrast to Halstad's standing in that vote, Democrat Michael M. Galloway received 44 "Highly Qualified" votes and seven "Not Qualified" votes. Democrat Fred S. Hecker had 21 "Highly Qualified" votes and 12 "Not Qualified."

Independent Charles M. Preston got 59 "Highly Qualified" votes and five "Not Qualified."

Republican Thomas F. Stansfield had 46 "Highly Qualified" votes and 11 "Not Qualified."

Glendening has said he will appoint one of the four remaining nominees to replace Halstad.

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the governor, said Glendening does not believe Halstad's appointment was a case of selecting the least qualified person from the list of nominees.

'Many factors' considered

"For one thing, Damian Halstad's name was on the list of names submitted to the governor by the judicial nominating commission," Morrill said. "The governor considers many factors in reaching his decision on judicial appointments."

Local lawyers and political observers noted whoever was chosen would face an election next year, but Halstad's appointment stirred political unrest within the Carroll legal community because the 38-year-old was considered too young and inexperienced to deserve the governor's nod.

The legal community also believed Halstad's selection was strictly partisan, a political payback for his campaigning for Glendening in 1994.

Finch noted the Carroll County Bar Association balloting is not the only opinion the governor receives.

"Other local bars also submit a recommendation for judicial appointments to the governor," Finch said.

Local bar association recommendations can be a popularity contest, he said.

Getty didn't agree.

"The governor and his staff know that a judicial nominee can survive only if he has the support of the legal community," Getty said.

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