The Howard County Circuit Court is polling lawyers about the expertise and fairness of three masters in chancery who handle divorce and child custody cases.
The unprecedented poll comes after The Washington Times reported last month that one of the masters, Nancy L. Haslinger, is drawing criticism from lawyers who say she discriminates against husbands and fathers in domestic cases. The Times also reported that some lawyers refuse to represent men in her courtroom.
The poll asks lawyers at random to evaluate the masters, who handle about 2,000 domestic and juvenile cases a year. The poll began about three weeks ago.
The Howard County Bar Association has 426 members.
Questions in the two-page poll ask lawyers to rate the masters’ knowledge of the law, courtroom demeanor, “even-handed treatment” of cases and fairness of rulings.
A master is an officer of the court who is assigned cases for adjudication and has limited judicial authority.
The poll’s results will not be made public but will be considered by court administrators who evaluate the masters’ work.
Masters are chosen by the county’s Circuit Court judges, who also may release and replace them. The masters’ rulings are referred to the Circuit Court, which may uphold or reverse them.
The poll was distributed late last month after David Rubin, a father of three, sent Maryland Chief Judge Robert M. Bell a copy of The Times’ story. Mr. Rubin, 50, told The Times that Mrs. Haslinger ordered him to pay so much child support and alimony that he fell into arrears and eventually was put in jail.
Judge Bell forwarded the copy of The Times article to Diane O. Leasure, administrative judge of the Howard County Circuit Court.
Judge Leasure wrote to Mr. Rubin Aug. 7, stating that the county courts were committed to fair and just treatment and informed him that the court system was conducting the poll.
Mrs. Haslinger has not responded to several attempts to contact her, including phone calls and visits to her chambers and courtroom.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Baltimore’s law school, Mrs. Haslinger, 55, practiced domestic law until her business partner died and the four Circuit Court judges selected her as master of chancery in 1994.
Despite the criticism, Mrs. Haslinger has supporters.
This week, Linda Deanto, a divorced mother of two, described Mrs. Haslinger as “extremely fair and just.”
Mrs. Deanto said she became angry after reading The Times story, which quoted her ex-husband, Craig, 49. Mr. Deanto claimed that Mrs. Haslinger ruled unfairly against him during his child custody case beginning in 1997. Mr. Deanto has since remarried and moved to Florida.
In the story, Mr. Deanto called Mrs. Haslinger’s courtroom a “kangaroo court.”
“Craig Deanto has stooped to unforgivable levels in a campaign to denigrate all who opposed his delusionary obsessions, by creating numerous Web sites in which he promotes his songs,” Mrs. Deanto said.
“The courts’ decision was not biased as is claimed by Craig Deanto, but was based on the fact that Craig and his witnesses lied and contradicted one another in their efforts to make himself look like a good father and the mother look like a bad mother,” Mrs. Deanto said. “The exact opposite was the case and the court ruled accordingly.”
No complaints against Mrs. Haslinger have been filed with the Attorneys Grievance Commission, which hears complaints about masters and judges in Maryland.