- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

Montgomery County Circuit Court judges will face primary challenges Tuesday, for the first time in 16 years.

Since 1986, circuit court judges have been uncontested in elections. This year, four challengers are vying with six judges for six court seats. All but one of the judges were appointed during the past two years by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

The judges - who have been endorsed by several state officials, including the two gubernatorial candidates - say that going through the election process tarnishes their standing as unbiased officials.

"I do not think that elections [for judges] are a good idea. Judges are not meant to curry favor with anyone. To put them into the political process runs counter to everything they stand for, including the ability to decide impartially," said Judge Anne N. Sundt, whom Mr. Glendending appointed in 2000.

However, the challengers say it is important to elect judges to ensure there is no favoritism in their appointments.

"There should be some check on the power of the executive. We do need to be protected from the possibility that the person making the appointments would name a crony," said Tom Eldridge, one of the challengers.

"There ought to be transparency," said Stephen Abrams, a school board member who is running against the judges.

Judge Sundt is on the ballot along with Chief Judge DeLawrence Beard and Associate Judges John W. Debelius, Joseph A. Dugan Jr., William J. Rowan III and Eric Johnson. Judge Beard was appointed in 1984 by Gov. Harry R. Hughes, a Democrat, and is seeking re-election to his post; the others were appointed by Mr. Glendening and are seeking election for the first time.

Mr. Abrams and Mr. Eldridge, along with James F. Shalleck and Charles B. Barksdale, are challenging the judges. Their names will appear on the ballots with those of the judges, and voters must choose no more than six names.

All judgeship candidates are listed on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots, and the six with the most votes on each ballot advance to the November elections. If the same six top both ballots, they are guaranteed the judgeships.

To qualify for a judgeship in an election, a candidate must have been a member of the Maryland bar for at least five years.

Maryland law requires only circuit court judges to be elected in the first election cycle after their appointment, and they serve 15-year terms. Circuit judges in Baltimore and Harford also are seeking election.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, have both endorsed the Montgomery County Circuit Court judges in their campaigns to become Marylands next governor.

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