First Click -- Maryland
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Thursday, March 4, 2010:
"With all due respect to Justice O'Connor ..."
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor traveled to Annapolis on Wednesday to voice support for a bill that would end the practice of electing Maryland judges saying the state, and the nation, has enough evidence to know that judicial elections can ruin the perception of courts' fairness -- if not much more than that.
"I believe so strongly that we should not be, as states, electing judges in partisan elections with campaign contributions and the rest of it," O'Connor said. Her appearance at the request of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, built on a reinvigorated campaign to rid states of judicial elections that she began shortly after leaving the high court in 2006.
Gansler's bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), an American University law professor and others, would replace partisan elections for the state's nearly 160 Circuit Court judges, with a "merit" system. Judges would no longer raise campaign money to square off with challengers. Instead, they would face a simple "yes" or "no" vote of confidence every 10 years, and if voted out, be replaced with another gubernatorial appointment.
O'Connor said she supports the bill (with one caveat) and received a round of applause from law students and fans, but it didn't take long after she left Annapolis for many lawmakers to reveal their true feelings about the proposed change.
"With all due respect to Justice O'Connor, I have not received one e-mail or phone call from a constituent asking me to take away their right to elect a judge," said Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), minority leader in the state Senate and a member of the Howard County bar. "If this passes, no longer will any citizen of Maryland have the right to run for judge. If you're not a favored son of a governor or lawmaker, forget about it. You will have to play the political game."
The change would require a Constitutional amendment, and a three-fifths majority vote of the General Assembly, giving Republicans a little more sway than usual. But the real issue for proponents is that not all Democrats -- who control more than 70 percent of the seats in both the Senate and House -- support the change.
Historically, those seeking appointments have had to at least stick a toe into party politics to get nominated. Democrats and minorities in the state have also feared that the appointment process limits the upward mobility of African American and liberal judges. Over the last decade, Democrats have held up elected judges such as William Murphy Jr., son of a Baltimore community activist, as evidence that elections are good.
Gansler contends that that rationale is no longer valid. Three out of the four circuit court judges who lost their seats between 1996 and 2004 were African Americans sitting in predominantly white counties. Gansler said there's also not a single minority circuit court judge now sitting in Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore.
The Maryland chapter of the American Bar Association and several African American judges such as Judge Alexander Wright, Jr. on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, support the change. On the panel Wednesday with O'Connor, Wright said he used to sell tickets to campaign events for $100 a piece, which didn't seem to present too much of a conflict if purchased by lawyers who would appear in his court. But now, campaign receptions for judges bring in the maximum $4,000 from many law firms, and present an undeniable appearance of a conflict when those who have contributed to a judge face off in his or her court room against a lawyer who hasn't given money, Wright said.
Still, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he was not sure the bill would pass. And that's probably the end of it for this year. If it does -- or doesn't -- add judicial elections to the list of topics that could become campaign fodder - especially if any one decides to run against Gansler.
News You Should Know
O'Malley education reforms picked apart at legislative hearing
"A leading business group and charter school advocates said Wednesday that the governor's education reforms, designed to help the state compete for $250 million in federal money, do not go far enough," write Julie Bykowicz and Liz Bowie in The Baltimore Sun. "Meanwhile, state officials are fighting to retain the support of teachers, some of whom say the proposal doesn't clearly explain what would be expected of them."
Governor backs tax credit to help private schools
"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) threw his support Wednesday behind a tax credit designed to help Catholic and other private schools that are experiencing enrollment declines and recent closures," writes The Post's John Wagner. "The bill, sponsored by Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Anne Arundel) and strongly supported by the Maryland Catholic Conference, would create an income tax credit for 75 percent of a contribution made to a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships in eligible private schools. The credit would take effect in the 2011 tax year." O'Malley's position comes as The Sun reports that "the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore will close 13 of its 64 schools at the end of the academic year."
County leaders plead with state not to 'pile on'
"Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith said Wednesday that Gov. Martin O'Malley and state legislators should consider state pension reform as a possible budget-saving measure before they seek additional cuts in aid to counties," writes Bryan P. Sears of Patuxent Publishing. "Smith made his comments during an Annapolis news conference held by the Maryland Association of Counties, in which leaders from counties across the state urged the legislature to not 'pile on' additional cuts."
"All of us are a little bit allergic to the word 'fee' in this election year."
-- Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who nevertheless argued Tuesday in favor of a bill he has sponsored that would require all jurisdictions to charge property owners a fee to deal with the Chesapeake Bay's growing problem of pollution washing off lawns, driveways, buildings and parking lots
"A little dime, you can't even buy a telephone call today."
-- Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), advocating at an Annapolis rally Wednesday for a proposal to raise the state alchohol tax by a dime a drink
"I am the commander in chief of the Iowa National Guard, and I have a duty and obligation to do all I can to support our troops."
-- Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D), who has faced similar criticism back home as Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) over the timing of a recent trip to Iraq
"What features would you like to see on a redesigned bobehrlich.com?"
-- The Facebook page of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who has yet to announce whether is running again, soliciting ideas for his campaign Web site
"Bob Ehrlich has always put the special interests first."
-- The latest Web ad from the Maryland Democratic Party targeting the still-unannounced Ehrlich
Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.
Aaron C. Davis
March 4, 2010; 7:20 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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