SAVVY AND upwardly mobile lawyers looking to become a judge in Maryland would be wise to get on the good side of first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich.
The first lady, it seems, is extending her influence into the sensitive and highly political arena of judicial selection.
Kendel Ehrlich raised some eyebrows within the state's legal community last week when she addressed an orientation session of judicial nominating commissions, the panels that screen applicants for judgeships and pass recommendations to the governor.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s appointees to the nominating boards are getting down to work, giving the governor a chance to put his imprint on the state judiciary.
The first lady is a former Harford County prosecutor and Anne Arundel County public defender who plays an important behind-the-scenes role in her husband's administration. She is not shy about offering opinions about, say, how the governor's staff is performing.
"She was there because legal counsel [Jervis Finney] and the administrative office of the courts thought that she would be a good person to go in because of her legal background, and her knowledge of different jurisdictions throughout the state," said Meghann Siwinski, a spokeswoman for the first lady.
Speaking without prepared notes, Kendel Ehrlich gave her opinion of the qualities of good judges: a sense of humor, impartiality, fairness and an even temperament.
Siwinski said Kendel Ehrlich will play some role - but not a large one - in helping her husband choose judges.
"She has made a few suggestions on nominations, but on a limited basis," Siwinski said.
Mandel's law partner lands job with state lottery
The possibility that Maryland could get slot machine gambling is already paying dividends for some political insiders.
Paul Dorsey, law partner of former Gov. Marvin Mandel and the son of Mandel's late wife, has landed an $82,558-a-year position with the state lottery agency that involves researching how to put a slots operation together in Maryland.
Lottery Director Buddy Roogow said that he assigned Dorsey, 38, to examine models other states have used to set up slots. Most tie slots into their central lottery system computers, monitoring dollars wagered and ensuring the state gets all the taxes it is owed.
"We want to be in a position to move quickly and efficiently, but also in the most cost-effective way for the state," Roogow said. "We want to be able to advise the governor and General Assembly as to what we've learned about all the different slot operations around the country."
Dorsey was hired effective July 1 with the title of director of policy and development. Roogow said he is filling an executive-level position that had been vacant for six to eight months and was retitled with new duties.
Roogow said officials with the governor's office suggested interviewing Dorsey when he told them he was seeking to hire someone to "help us with policy and development in relation to new and existing games on the lottery side." He said it was made clear that he could hire whomever he wanted for the post.
Dorsey said he is no longer doing legal work for private corporate clients since taking the lottery job.
Mandel, a political ally of Ehrlich whom the governor has appointed to the university system Board of Regents, has been something of a controversial figure within the Ehrlich administration.
Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in a 1977 case involving investments by friends in a racetrack and was forced from office. The conviction was overturned on a technicality in 1987, but not before Mandel served 19 months in prison.
GOP lobbyists handling clients interested in slots
The prospect of slots also has brought business to a Republican lobbying group that opened up shop soon after Ehrlich took office.
Chesapeake Government Relations Inc., headed by GOP operatives Lee Cowen, Wayne Berman and Scott Reed, has signed up two gambling industry clients with an interest in slots. The firm's three principals have long been involved with national Republican Party politics.
One client, Multimedia Games of Austin, Texas, has a contract with the New York State Lottery to set up a centralized computerized system to monitor a slots network proposed for that state's horse racing tracks.
"We have announced our intention to try to get contracts similar to the New York contract in which we try to get back-office [computer] management services for racinos," a company spokeswoman said of Multimedia's interest in Maryland.
Another client is Delaware North Companies, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based conglomerate that is trying to obtain a majority ownership stake in Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County. The track is one of several eyed as a possible site for a racetrack casino with thousands of machines.