Gov. Martin O'Malley announced yesterday the appointment of a longtime adviser to the General Assembly and a former Baltimore County judge to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's second-highest court.
The appointments, which must be confirmed by the state Senate, elevate Alexander Wright Jr. and Robert A. Zarnoch to the bench. Wright would replace Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., who has been nominated to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. Zarnoch would take the seat of retired Judge James A. Kenney III.
O'Malley, in a statement, called his appointees "two of the state's great legal minds."
This marks the third time Wright has been tapped to fill a judgeship. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed him to District Court in 1993, and former Gov. Parris N. Glendening named him to the Baltimore County Circuit Court in 1998 and 2001.
When Wright, an African-American, twice lost election to the Circuit Court after his appointments, some civil rights activists suspected racism. Wright has partly blamed his losses on the fact that his name appeared last on the ballots.
Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she admires Wright not only for his judicial record but also for his attitude after his electoral defeats and while serving on largely white courts.
"It probably was a pretty lonely job when he first went into Baltimore County when you look at the demographics, but he really is a team player. He thinks of justice and fairness first of all," she said. "He never became bitter when he lost those elections, although it was clear he was the most qualified. Instead he said, 'The people have spoken.' "
Wright is in private practice at the Miles and Stockbridge law firm in Towson.
Zarnoch has served as the legislature's counsel since 1979, reviewing thousands of bills and defending the state's position in court. Last year he defended the state's statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, saying that any change in the law should be a question for the legislature. He also served as co-counsel defending the state against a Republican lawsuit seeking to invalidate November's special session.
Zarnoch said he has long aspired to become an appellate judge. "Once you get bitten by that sort of practice you start to wonder what it would be like from the other side," he said.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a Montgomery County Democrat, called Zarnoch "extremely smart, principled and even-tempered." Frosh said he doesn't foresee much opposition to either appointment.