Seven Candidates Contend for Cecil County Circuit Court Judgeship

April 29, 2011

Seven candidates, including some well-known local legal names, have applied for a gubernatorial appointment to a Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship, according to the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts.

Five of the candidates applied for the post before the deadline to do so on Thursday, while two others are carry-over candidates placed in a “pool” of potential appointees for a previous court vacancy.

Whoever is selected by the governor will have to defend the seat in the next election, presumably in 2012, if the governor makes an appointment this year. And that could be a hotly contested race if Del. Michael D. Smigiel (R-36) runs for a judgeship as is widely expected. Smigiel did not apply for an appointment to the court.

The current vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge O. Robert Lidums. It is the last seat on the local Circuit Court bench that will turn over. Last December, Governor Martin O’Malley appointed Keith Baynes to the seat previously occupied by the late Judge Richard Eli Jackson. (See previous Cecil Times report here:

Baynes, a Republican, will have to defend his seat in the 2012 election, and with two court seats potentially on the ballot, there could be a multi-candidate free-for-all. Judicial elections are considered non-partisan and candidates run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. If a candidate wins both primaries, he/she runs unopposed in the general election, but if different candidates win the primaries there is a face-off in the general. With two seats at stake, there could be multiple candidates emerging from the primaries.

Meanwhile, the third seat on the local circuit bench will not be at stake. Judge V. Michael Whelan, who was appointed last year by Governor O’Malley to the seat vacated by retiring Judge Dexter Thompson, successfully defended his seat in last year’s elections.

Submitting applications by Thursday’s deadline were:

—Harry D. Barnes III, who ran against Judge Whelan last year and lost. Barnes did not apply for a gubernatorial nomination for that seat, saying at the time that “I don’t believe in political appointments” and favored going directly to the voters. But this year, he has applied for an appointment.

Barnes is well-known in local legal circles and has handled a variety of cases in private practice. He is a graduate of the University of Baltimore’s law school and is a Democrat.

—John H. Buck, who also ran against Whelan last year and came in a distant third. He is a Democrat who has worked as an assistant states attorney for Cecil County. (He previously applied for a District Court appointment in 2008.) He is a graduate of the University of Baltimore law school.

—Kevin Urick, 59, is a career prosecutor who has specialized in prosecuting child abuse cases and sex offenses as an assistant states attorney for Cecil County since 2005. Previously, he served for 13 years as a prosecutor with the Baltimore States Attorney’s office, handling felony cases, including homicide prosecutions. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s law school and lives with his wife in the Charlestown Manor area. He is a Democrat but said he is not a “partisan.”

—Thomas Klenk, 57, a veteran assistant Public Defender in Cecil County who has served in that office since 1984. He represents criminal case defendants who cannot afford private legal counsel. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and received his law degree from the University of Baltimore. He is a Democrat but said he is “not really a political person” and decided to apply for the judgeship after receiving much encouragement to do so from fellow lawyers in the county. He and his wife have two adult children and live in the Fair Hill area

–Jason L. Allison is a newer name in county legal circles. The 40-year-old lawyer has mostly practiced civil law during his seven years as an attorney in Cecil County, including work as the Chesapeake City town attorney and his current post as legal counsel to the county Board of Appeals. He is a graduate of the Widener University Law School in Delaware and received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education from Ohio State University. He is a Democrat.

The Columbus, OH native came to Cecil County when his wife, Dr. Cydney Teal, accepted a position at Union Hospital, where she practices internal medicine and serves as director of medical quality at the hospital. They have two young children.

The remaining candidates were previously selected for a “pool” of lawyers recommended by a nominating panel but passed over by the governor for past appointments. They are Jane Cairns Murray, currently a court master and a former public defender, who is a Democrat; and Edward D. Ellis Rollins III, who was elected Cecil County State’s Attorney in last year’s election. Rollins is a Republican.

A regional nominating panel, which includes lawyers and citizens from the Upper Shore area, will meet June 6 to make recommendations to the Governor.

Circuit Court judges earn $140,352 annually and serve a 15-year term after they are elected to the position.

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