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Challenger Survives Primary Against Four Sitting Judges

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An Anne Arundel County judge is facing getting knocked off the bench in the November election, which is just the sort of possibility that was described here last month.

One of the challengers to the four sitting judges on the Circuit Court, Claudia Barber, edged out Judge Glenn Klavans in the April 26 Democratic primary, so her name will appear on the November ballot. The three women Circuit Court judges handily won their elections in the Democratic and Republican primaries, though all four of the judges appointed in the last 16 months are Republicans.

The four are running as a ticket “Four Judges Strong.”

In this crazy election system, the judge candidates run not in a nonpartisan race like school board members do in most counties, but in both party primaries. This effectively excludes the 81,000 unaffiliated and third-party voters from the first stage of the process.

Barber, a Laurel resident, is an administrative law judge in D.C., but no judicial experience is necessary to file for Circuit Court judge, only a law degree. There were two other challengers, Mark Howe and Ricky Nelson Jones. There hasn’t been a black judge like Barber sitting on the Anne Arundel bench since the 1990s, which is one of the reasons Barber challenged the appointees.

Challenges

To illustrate the oddity of this system around the state, in Baltimore City, the six sitting judges handily won the Democratic primary; but in the Republican primary, retiring city council member Jim Kraft, a life-long liberal Democrat, apparently knocked off Judge Wanda Keyes Heard, and will appear on the general election ballot against the sitting judges. Heard is black; Kraft is white.

In Prince George’s County, in the Democratic primary with four sitting judges, former county council member Ingrid Turner came in fourth, knocking off Judge Erik Nyce, a Hogan appointee who did win the Republican primary. Nyce is white; Turner is black.

While the racial element in some of these results is obvious, it cuts both ways. In the past 20 years, black judges have gone down in Baltimore and Howard counties, and in 2014, Danny O’Connor, a white Democratic judge in Frederick County, was defeated by former Republican state’s attorney Scott Rolle. Rolle was the Republican nominee for state attorney general in 2006, when Democrat Doug Gansler won the job.

Arundel’s Women Judges

Anne Arundel voters seem to have a particular fondness for women judges. Given how little most voters know about the judges, other than their names on the ballot, that’s what election results seem to indicate.

In 2010, Alison Asti challenged judges Ronald Jarashow and Laura Kiessling. Asti beat Jarashow in the Republican primary by 5,500 votes, but lost the Democratic primary. One of the issues Asti raised was the preponderance of Democrats Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed to the bench. Then, Asti beat Jarashow again in the general election by 20,000 votes, garnering 95,000 votes total; Kiessling scored 110,000 votes. Asti is now a judge; Jarashow is back practicing law.

In this year’s primary, all three women judges — Stacy McCormack, Donna Schaeffer and Cathy Vitale — got thousands of votes more than Judge Glenn Klavans from Democrats and Republicans. If their votes from both partisan primaries were combined (as they would be in a nonpartisan primary, where the unaffiliated wouldn’t be disenfranchised), McCormack got almost 12,600 votes more than Klavans, Schaeffer got 16,500 more and Vitale, a former delegate and county council member, got almost 20,000 more.

But here’s the real rub for Klavans: Combining his votes in both primaries, Klavans got almost 21,000 more votes than Barber, because she did very poorly in the Republican primary and barely edged him in the Democratic primary by 1,200 votes.

Is this a fair or rational to pick judges? Of course, by combining these votes it would appear that Klavans should beat Barber in the general election. But the threat is still hanging over him and the other sitting judges. (Going back to 2010, Asti got more combined votes than Jarashow in the two primaries.)

Many proposals to change the system for selecting and electing judges have been offered, four of them in just the last legislative session. The goal is to have a consistent, fair and open process that produces the best jurists on the bench, while having these ultimate arbiters also reflect the communities they serve and giving voters some say in who serve.

But black Democrats and white Republicans reject the changes, because both feel that governors have discriminated against them in appointing judges. They see the ballot box as the only remedy.

It is difficult balancing act. Compared to some states, Maryland has a very fair process for appointment of judges by the governor. But running in contested, partisan elections, requiring the raising of money for a campaign, has serious flaws.

Asked to Resign

Besides the judges race, the other courthouse drama involved Sheriff Ron Bateman, who was arrested last month and charged with misdemeanor assault after a domestic dispute with his wife. His wife called 911, but she later denied what she told the 911 dispatcher — that Bateman had punched her in the eye.

Bateman served 23 years with the Anne Arundel police department, rising to the rank of captain, and in 2006 was elected sheriff; the office largely handles courthouse security and delivers arrest warrants. Last year, he switched parties and became a Republican.

In an unusual move, after the release of the 911 recording, County Executive Steve Schuh, State Sen. Ed Reilly and county GOP Chair Nathan Volke issued a statement asking Bateman to resign. “This criminal case threatens the public trust in the Office of Anne Arundel County Sheriff, and compromises Mr. Bateman’s ability to administer the Sheriff’s Office,” it said.

Bateman not only refused to resign, but said he planned to seek reelection to a fourth four-year term in 2018. His future may be determined by what happens when the case goes to trial.

Congressional Races

Anne Arundel County is gerrymandered into four meandering congressional districts — 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th — with no county resident representing any of them.

With Rep. Donna Edwards leaving Congress, some Anne Arundel residents will be getting a new representative. Former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Prince George’s Democrat who lost the race for governor in 2014, won the Democratic primary to replace her. Republican George McDermott, known among journalists for his long screeds about the court system, won the primary. David Therrien of Pasadena was also running, but who knew?

Also in the “Who knew?” category, Yuripzy Morgan of Severna Park, a lawyer and daughter of a Salvadoran mother, was running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, as was Bill Heine of Pasadena. But Heine came in a distant third and Morgan came in fourth to Del. Pat McDonough of Middle River, the flamboyant populist conservative, for the chance to face Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger in the fall.

Dr. Mark Plaster of Annapolis easily won the GOP primary to face Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes. And Dr. Mark Arness beat former CIA agent Sam Faddis of Davidsonville for the chance to challenge House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.