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Councilman Kraft poised for spot on November judges' ballot

Baltimore's sitting judges faced challenge in Tuesday's primary from City Councilman James B. Kraft.

Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft was poised to win a spot on the November ballot alongside six of the city's sitting circuit judges, putting him in the rare position to potentially unseat an incumbent judge.

Kraft and public defender Todd Oppenheim ran against the judges up for election — Shannon E. Avery, Audrey J.S. Carrion, Michael A. DiPietro, Karen Chaya Friedman, Wanda Keyes Heard and Cynthia H. Jones.

Results showed Kraft and Oppenheim trailing significantly in the Democratic primary, but Kraft was leading two of his opponents to place sixth in the Republican primary. To move on to the November election, candidates had to place in the top six on either the Democratic or Republican ballot.

A handful of precincts had not reported, and city election officials said those ballots would be counted Wednesday.

Judicial upsets are rare in the city, and no sitting judge has lost a seat in an election in the past three decades.

Kraft brought to the race strong name recognition from 12 years on the City Council representing Southeast Baltimore. Oppenheim gained visibility through op-eds in national publications in which he discussed inequities in the justice system, including issues such as bail reform.

The judges responded to their challengers by amassing a campaign treasury of more than $340,000, much of the donations coming from area attorneys and law firms. They promoted endorsements from Rep. Elijah Cummings and high-profile attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr.

The judges, recommended for their posts by a nonpartisan commission, argued they had passed a "rigorous evaluation" and deserved to continue on the bench. In Maryland, circuit judges are appointed by the governor to fill vacancies, then must run in the first general election following their appointment.

On Election Day, the judges sent out an anti-Kraft mailer that noted that if elected, he would face mandatory retirement at age 70 after serving just a few years. The flier displayed an image of a gold parachute and said Kraft was trying to "avoid … a rigorous evaluation by a non-partisan commission."

Kraft, 66, called the flier an "appeal to discriminate against me because of my age." He said it also wrongly suggests he is vying for a judicial pension. "To imply so is a reckless disregard of the truth," he said.

Only a handful of times in the past three decades has a lawyer made it to the November judicial ballot without having previously served as a judge. In 1982, Kenneth Johnson and Thomas Ward won seats on the bench.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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