The Howard County Bar Association has endorsed and given its highest recommendation to a single applicant of 11 vying for the District Court vacancy created by the death of Judge C. James Sfekas.
After interviews with applicants Wednesday, a local bar committee voted to endorse and highly recommend former assistant Howard public defender Richard S. Bernhardt, now a lawyer with the state attorney general's office, to the commission charged with making recommendations for the post to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The committee also recommended four of the 11, did not recommend an additional four and decided not to recommend two "at this time."
Committee members did not interview four applicants who are part of a leftover pool of nominees for the judgeship held by District Judge Pamila J. Brown. The names of the four - Howard prosecutor Mary V. Murphy, state Administrative Law Judge Wayne A. Brooks, private practice attorney Deborah L. Robinson and Howard County Master Elaine Patrick - are automatically forwarded to the governor.
While not binding, the bar's picks become part of the process - bar endorsements are listed as "one factor" the Judicial Nominating Commission will consider when it meets Sept. 23 to interview the candidates and forward its recommendations to the governor.
Brown was among the four lawyers endorsed by the local bar last year for the vacancy created by the promotion of District Court Chief Judge James N. Vaughan. Two of the four - Brooks and Robinson - also became finalists for the job.
Local bar officials said Friday that the fact that three of their four endorsed candidates became finalists for the Vaughan vacancy shows the committee process that replaced a membership vote holds more weight. Some have likened the old vote to a "popularity contest."
"It's our belief that the changes we made to the system leant credibility to our recommendations," said Robert W. Guth, the local bar's immediate past president.
Still, last week's results were puzzling for some: Three who applied for the Vaughan vacancy and were rated "highly recommended" for the post in December were listed as "recommended" last week. And two listed as "not recommended at this time" were "not recommended." The most notable change was in the bar committee's view of Columbia attorney Charles J. Broida, one of the bar endorsements and "highly recommended" candidates in December who is now on the "recommended" list.
Gerald M. Richman, who chairs the bar's judicial merit selection committee, would say only that the results were derived from different interviews conducted in front of different committees. At least five members of the 12-person committee have changed since December.
In addition to Broida, the committee listed as "recommended" applicants Howard prosecutor and local bar President Sue-Ellen Hantman; private practice attorney and local bar President-elect Mary C. Reese; and private practice attorney F. Todd Taylor, who also does work for the Howard County solicitor's office.