Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named 154 Marylanders -- many with strong conservative credentials -- to local and statewide judicial nominating commissions yesterday.
Ehrlich's appointments to the unpaid advisory panels came four months after he disbanded the previous judicial nominating commissions selected by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
As expected, the new commissions include some dedicated Republicans -- eager to claim their share of judgeships after three decades of slim pickings under Democratic governors.
"I am confident these new members will submit to me the most qualified candidates for the bench -- candidates that possess ability, independence and respect for the law," Ehrlich said in a prepared statement.
Henry P. Fawell, Ehrlich's spokesman, said the appointees were people "who support the governor's program."
Among the names on the lists were those of two high-powered Annapolis lobbyists. Carville B. Collins Jr., a lawyer and lobbyist with the Baltimore office of Piper Rudnick, was named to the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission. J. William Pitcher, who runs his own law and lobbying firm in Annapolis, was named to the nominating panel for Anne Arundel County.
Other prominent names on the list are:
James T. Brady, economic development secretary under Glendening until the two had a falling-out. Brady, who ran Ehrlich's transition operations, was named to the appellate nominating panel.
Harry S. Johnson, the first African-American to serve as president of the Maryland State Bar Association. He, too, was named to the appellate panel.
Carol L. Hirschburg, a former spokeswoman for GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey. Hirschburg, named to the Baltimore County commission, is a fierce Republican partisan who has urged a hard line toward Democratic holdovers.
Wayne R. Gioioso Sr., real estate developer and close associate of Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, named chairman of the Baltimore County panel.
Alice G. Pinderhughes, former Baltimore school superintendent, named to the nominating panel for the city.
Harold C. Donofrio, a prominent Baltimore advertising executive and generous donor to candidates of both parties, named to the city panel.
William H. Murphy Jr., defense attorney and former city judge. Murphy, who ran a spirited race for mayor against William Donald Schaefer in 1983, was appointed to the Baltimore nominating commission.
The statewide and local judicial nominating commissions were set up by Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1970 to propose nominees for appointment to the appellate and county circuit and district courts.
Governors typically appoint judicial nominees from a list submitted by the commissions. If dissatisfied with the applicants, governors can ask the panels to submit a new list.
The appointments come at a time when the state has only four vacancies in its 272 judgeships -- all at the circuit and district level.
Fawell said the appointments of the two lobbyists to the panels is "nothing new."
"This is something that has proven in the past to be appropriate and acceptable, and we're confident that will continue to be the case in the future," Fawell said.
The head of an ethics watchdog group disagreed, noting that legislators have often been applicants for judgeships.
"There's a huge potential for conflict if one day a legislator passes a lobbyist's bill and the next day needs [the lobbyist's] approval to sit on the bench," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.
Collins could not be reached for comment, but Pitcher said he would probably recuse himself in any case where a legislator were applying to sit on the bench. Pitcher, who said he is "primarily and foremost a lawyer," said he saw no business advantages in the appointment.
In November, Ehrlich will get his first opportunity to appoint a member of the state's highest court when a judge on the Court of Appeals reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
While the Maryland State Bar Association gets to name members to the statewide and local nominating commissions, the panels are largely creatures of the governor.
As reconfigured by Ehrlich this year, the appeals panel has 17 members. Ten are gubernatorial appointees, including four nonlawyers. The rest are lawyers chosen by the bar association.
The local panels have 13 members -- five attorneys and four nonattorneys selected by the governor, as well as four members selected by the bar.
This is a change from the method used by Glendening, who restructured the commissions in 1995 in response to criticism that the lawyer-dominated panels were perpetuating a "old boys' network" that excluded women and minorities.
Glendening made a big push to put women and minorities on the bench. Of his 172 judicial appointments, 37 percent were women and 26 percent belonged to a minority group.
However, Glendening's appointments brought complaints from conservatives that the judges he named took an overly activist approach.
"I think people should expect that the new judges will reflect more of the philosophy of Governor Ehrlich," said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican. "I would like to see more traditional-type judges, who are there to interpret the law, not make the law."