Challenger seeks Orphans Court seat

The Baltimore Sun

Next week's Republican primary will winnow from four to three the number of candidates running for Orphans Court judgeships.

Despite its title, which is a holdover from English law, the court has nothing to do with children. Its three judges, who need not be lawyers, are probate judges and decide disputes dealing with estates. The four-year term is a part-time job, which is typically two days a week.

Three incumbents are seeking re-election: Nancy C. Phelps, 58, of Gambrills; Gail J. Schaffer, 62, of Annapolis; and Gordon H. Witherspoon, 78, of Annapolis. Challenger Jerry Walker, 32, of Gambrills, a vice president of a company that sells and repairs electronics and imaging software, is making his first run for office.

Walker, also seeking a seat on the Republican Central Committee, is the former campaign treasurer for Del. Don Dwyer Jr., a conservative Republican from District 31.

He said he hopes to continue a family tradition of serving others and that his religious views speak to his integrity and provide his moral compass.

"We need strong Republicans in every level of elected office, who will stand up for what they believe in the face of questioning and not be afraid to say I am Pro-Life; I support Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage; I am a Christian, and I am willing to run for office so my Biblical Worldview and my ideology is represented," he said in an e-mail.

He is married and has no children.

Phelps is seeking a third term.

"It takes you at least two years to learn it, and I truly enjoy the job. I truly enjoy the other judges I work with. I love dealing with the law and with people," she said.

A real estate agent and former bookkeeper, she said she has brought knowledge in both of those areas to the job, in which judges sometimes look at assets and financial details. Phelps said she finds the job of helping people "rewarding."

She and her husband have one grown son.

Schaffer, the chief judge and an artist, is seeking a fourth term. She is also the chairwoman of the first Conference of Orphans Court Judges, a position to which she was appointed by Robert M. Bell, Maryland's chief judge.

She said the court sometimes ends up in the role of counselor in emotional family issues.

"If we can help them deal with that and settle their [personal problem], I feel very good about it," she said.

She and her husband have one grown son.

Witherspoon, a retired lawyer and administrative law judge, is seeking a second term on the Orphans Court.

"When I was a practicing attorney, I handled quite a number of probate situations," he said.

The Attorney Grievance Commission and the Judicial Disabilities Commission reprimanded him during his current term for representing at no fee his son and daughter-in-law in a private matter in Baltimore County. As an Orphans Court judge, he is barred from practicing law.

His wife, Gilberte F. Witherspoon, a longtime Baltimore County election official, died in 2003; he has a grown son and a grown daughter.

Three Democrats, Walter D. Dow of Severn; Alex C. Gudger of Annapolis; and Brian J. Metzbower of Glen Burnie, are unopposed in the primary. They will face the three winners of the Republican primary in the November general election.

Appeals from the Orphans Court are heard by judges of the county's Circuit Court.

One Circuit Court judge will be on the ballot.

William C. Mulford II, who was appointed in December to serve as a judge on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, is unopposed as he seeks a 15-year term on the bench.

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