The four Republican sitting judges on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court appointed to the bench in the last two years are fighting hard to fend off a lone, underfunded Democratic challenger who lost her job as a D.C. administrative law judge because she was running.
The three women judges — Stacy McCormack, Donna Schaeffer and former Delegate Cathy Vitale — are presumed fairly safe because they easily trounced Democrat Claudia Barber in the primary, getting tens of thousands votes more than Barber. It’s Judge Glenn Klavans that has the potential problem, losing to Barber by 1,500 votes in the Democratic primary.
In Maryland, judicial elections for Circuit Court judges are an odd contraption. After they are appointed by the governor following a strenuous nominating process that examines their credentials, they must run in the next election. But they can also be challenged in that election by any lawyer. All the judges and judicial candidates challenging them, regardless of party affiliation, run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
This is a process that excludes independent voters and those registered with third parties — unlike the nonpartisan elections for school board in most Maryland counties, in which any registered voter can participate.
It was this “partisan” nature of these supposedly nonpartisan contests that tripped up Claudia Barber, of Laurel. Administrative law judges in D.C. are not allowed to run in partisan races, and a complaint was filed against her by Ronald Jarashow, a former Anne Arundel judge who lost his seat to challenger Alison Asti in 2010.
Barber accuses Jarashow, a Democrat, of colluding with the Republican judges, but Jarashow insists he filed the complaint because he believes sitting judges ought to retain their seats.
Barber was found guilty of an ethics violation in August, but filed an appeal of her dismissal from office last month.
What’s slightly unusual about this judicial election is how partisan it has become. The four sitting judges have emphasized their Republican ties and their endorsement by Gov. Larry Hogan. Klavans and Vitale were appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley at the end of his term. At his annual fundraiser at the Thanksgiving Farm winery in Harwood last month, Republican Sen. Ed Reilly emphasized the importance of the race.
“We have to make sure the judges are well taken care of,” Reilly said in a speech, handing the mic off to the judges.
“This is an important election,” Klavans said. Judges “can affect families for several generations. We’ve been there doing the job,” he said. “Skip the first name on the ballot and vote for the final four.”
The candidates are listed alphabetically, with Barber’s name first. No party affiliation is listed.
“The race is crazy for judges,” said Vitale, who served almost 11 years on the Anne Arundel County Council before becoming a delegate. Under ethics rules, the judges “can’t comment” on specific cases or laws and they “can’t talk about sentences.”
Listed last on the ballot, it might seem that Vitale would have a problem, but she actually was the top vote-getter in this year’s primary. As “Big Ed” Reilly pointed out, in the 2014 election, before her appointment as a judge, she got more votes than any of the other 143 members of the House of Delegates, almost 36,000. (Number 2 in that election for the House, with a few hundred votes less, was Del. Pat McDonough, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties who is challenging Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger in the 2nd Congressional District.)
Turns out that her political ally, Big Ed, is not just a large and imposing figure — he’s also huge at the ballot box. He got more votes in 2014 than any other member of the entire Maryland General Assembly, a whopping 41,745, the only state senator to break 40,000. He was also running unopposed for reelection, though he says he might not be so lucky in 2018.
While the judges may be running scared, particularly Klavans, Barber may not be much of a threat. At the end of August, she only had $1,300 in her campaign account; the committee for the 4 Judges Strong had 20 times that amount.
An Elected School Board
Also on the Anne Arundel ballot are two judges on the Court of Special Appeals: Dan Friedman, former general counsel to the General Assembly, and Timothy Meredith. But unlike the Circuit Court appointees, the appellate judges run in what are called “retention” elections. Voters get to vote Yes or No “for continuance in office.”
The same is true for five members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, the county’s only nod to voter selection of the school board. After their appointment to the local board by the governor, the Anne Arundel school board members are put on the ballot. This election they are Thomas Frank, Julie Hummer, Maria Delores Sasso, Terry Gilleland and Eric Grannon.
At a hearing of the Anne Arundel delegation to the legislature Sept. 13, there seemed to be some movement toward a so-called “hybrid” board, where some of its nine members are elected and others would continue to be appointed, though maybe not by the governor.
County Executive Steve Schuh, who sponsored legislation for a “hybrid” board as a delegate, sent a letter asking for a board that includes three members appointed by the county executive, not the governor.
“An appointed element to the school board will assure that the otherwise elected board have the appropriate racial, gender and ideological diversity,” Schuh said, in his letter. Lack of diversity has been a complaint made about Gov. Hogan’s appointments.
County council member Chris Trumbauer noted that at Maryland Association of Counties meetings, there is “no shortage of complaints about elected school boards” and that “an elected board doesn’t solve all our problems.” He would like the county council to have some role in appointing members.
House Speaker Michael Busch, who has opposed an elected school board in the past, noted again that the board does not have taxing authority. “I believe the school board should be independent of county government,” Busch said.
Current members of the school board favor the system as it exists now, even though Anne Arundel is the rare board in Maryland, and in the entire country, that is totally appointed by another elected official. More than 95% of all school boards are elected, though most outside of Maryland have taxing authority.
After the hearing was over, Del. Pam Beidle, chair of the delegation’s education subcommittee, pointed out that legislation for a hybrid board, co-sponsored by her and then-Del. Schuh, passed the House, but died in the Senate. Opposition by Democratic senators has been the roadblock for years.
There seems to be a consensus moving toward a hybrid board, at least among the delegates. But it does little good to pass such a measure if the county senators oppose it again.