Circuit judge's defeat leaves all-white bench

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The apparent ouster of two Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judges in Tuesday's election marks a return to an all-white bench in the county, raising the concern of some civil rights leaders who have seen a number of minority judges coming up short in elections in recent years.

Two years ago, Alexander Wright Jr. lost his seat on the Baltimore County Circuit Court for the second time. Gov. Parris N. Glendening had appointed him to the bench twice, only to see him lose election in 2000 and 2002. In Howard County, Glendening appointee Donna Hill Staton lost in 1996.

"When you have an African-American defendant being tried by an all-white jury or there is an all-white bench, it does not serve justice," said Carl O. Snowden, a longtime black activist and an assistant to the Anne Arundel County executive.

On Tuesday, voters turned out Judge Rodney C. Warren, the second black ever appointed to Arundel's Circuit Court, and Judge David S. Bruce, a white judge. Both had been appointed by Glendening in 2002.

Taking their places will be two Republican lawyers, Paul G. Goetzke, counsel to the mayor of Annapolis, and Paul F. Harris, who has a private law practice in Glen Burnie.

Bruce finished fourth in the race for one of three seats, 3,274 votes behind the 83,032 garnered by third-place finisher Harris. Warren finished fifth, missing the third-place cutoff by 7,625 votes. The results will not be official until absentee and provisional ballots are counted.

If the order does not change, Judge Michele Dane Jaklitsch will be the only judge on the ballot to retain her seat - possibly because she was the only woman in the six-candidate race observers said.

The county's Circuit Court is made up of 10 judges, all of whom had been appointed by Glendening. The new judges are expected to take their seats before the end of the year.

The last time the county had an all-white circuit bench was in 1995, before Judge Clayton Greene Jr., since appointed to the state's highest court, was put there by Glendening.

"I don't think there is any question that that is a concern," said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. Diversity is healthy because it tests viewpoints and brings more information to judges, she said.

Warren, however, said he would not speculate about why voters rejected his retention. He did not bring up race as he campaigned. When the subject came up, he told people he was the second African-American appointed to the circuit bench.

The officially nonpartisan race for a 15-year term had become partisan in a county that is increasingly conservative.

James P. Nolan, a former Maryland State Bar Association president and campaign chief for the three incumbent judges said the vote was largely along party lines.

"I believe that what occurred primarily was that Mr. Goetzke and Mr. Harris campaigned on an anti-Glendening platform as Republicans," Nolan said. "I guess that is smart politics because it worked. I am not sure in the long run that that is a good thing for dispensing justice in our community."

Both campaigned against "Glendening appointees."

"Anne Arundel County is a strongly trending Republican county. The charge that these were Parris Glendening judges was difficult to overcome," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

President Bush received nearly 56 percent of the Arundel vote; about three-fourths of Bush voters also voted for Goetzke and Harris, according to exit polls, said Dan Nataf, who heads the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.

Also, Goetzke, Harris and Jaklitsch, with deeper roots locally, were better known than Warren, Bruce, and Stephen P. Beatty, the Libertarian Party candidate. Goetzke was left paralyzed from the chest down after a diving accident in 2000.

Goetzke, in particular, vowed to be tough on crime - which Nataf said would play well with people who voted for Bush.

Several criminal defense lawyers said his tough-sentencing campaign may cause problems as a judge. "I think a defense attorney or a public defender would be committing legal malpractice if they did not ask Paul Goetzke to recuse himself in a criminal case," said lawyer William C. Mulford II.

But Goetzke said, "A judge who promises that he would tend to be stricter than a current sentencing pattern of the bench is not prejudging any case."

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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