Robert Redding, a 10-year veteran of the Maryland House and the outgoing chairman of the Prince George's County delegation, decided in June he wanted a new niche in life. So he went to see Ernest Loveless, chief judge of the Prince George's Circuit Court.
Redding wanted to know what his chances might be if he applied for the job of juvenile master, a quasi-judicial position with a potentially big salary and full judge's benefits.
At the time, the judges were not due to fill the post for two more months and were still taking applications.
But Redding had to find out, as he put it,"whether the process was still open. You know how the courthouse works -- sometimes they have a favorite son."
In the end, Redding became the favorite son. By early this month, "the skids were greased for him," as one judge put it, after some maneuvering by his former law partner and legislative colleague, Judge David Gray Ross.
But Redding did not get the job.
The story of how he locked up the job, and then he lost it, is the story of courthouse politics in Prince George's.
David Ross is the man who persuaded his good friend Robert Redding to consider leaving the legislature and apply for the juvenile master's job. Ross had left his own post as a county delegate in 1977 to become a judge.
"Bob Redding is truly one of the good people in the world," Ross said. "I truly can't think of anybody who can say anything bad about Bob Redding." "
Redding, who once played minor league baseball for the Senators, is a master electrician. He went to Prince George's Community College, then spent eight long years in night classes before earning a law degree at the University of Maryland. All that impressed David Ross.
"What I think is neat is here is someone who can pull down a light and socket and fix it," Ross said.
Redding was easily convinced to apply. The juvenile master's job, he knew, was a steppingstone on the court. Of the 22 district and circuit court judges now on the bench, six were once courthouse masters.
After convincing Redding to apply for the job, Ross went to work to make sure Redding got the post.
Other local lawyers and officials, 30 in all, had applied for the slot, and a panel of four judges was to meet to recommend one candidate to the entire court.
The panel's procedure was for each judge to rank 10 of the 30 candidates, best to worst. The ranking points each candidate received were added up and the top vote-getter was supposed to get the recommendation -- and a heavy advantage for the final selection vote by the full court.
After some careful lobbying, Ross was confident that Redding would win in the rankings, especially since Ross was one of the judges voting. But when the tabulations came in, the winner was Al Northrup, also a former law partner of Ross.
Ross realized he'd better do something quick -- or Redding was in trouble.
So he examined the vote tabulations carefully. He noticed that one judge -- newcomer James Rea -- had ranked Redding last. Rea must have made a mistake, Ross thought. "It seemed strange to me," Ross said later.
To make sure, Ross quickly dialed Rea's secretary and suggested that Rea might have mistakenly filled out his rankings backwards, meaning to put Redding first instead of last. Rea eventually agreed with Ross. So Ross called for a revote.
The second time, Redding won easily. "Fair is fair," Ross said.
The news reached Redding quickly, ""The one thing this will do is give me a steady income," he said.
The news also reached some of the other candidates. "When somebody broaches the subject," said Ann Sparrough, who finished third in the rankings, "I say I don't want to talk about it."
Ross brushed off criticism that he was paving the way for Redding. "No one has complained to me whatsoever, saying 'Goddamn Ross, we're not loading up the courthouse with your friends,'" he said. "Of course, they may tomorrow."
For Redding, winning the post would have meant a small victory, after two near misses in the political appointments game. Once, he thought he had a seat on the state Workman's Compensataion Board, only to have the job fall through at the last minute.
Another time, in 1977, a judicial nominating committee recommended him to Gov. Blair Lee III for a District Court seat.
The night before the announcement, Redding got a call from Lee. "How long are you going to be mad at me if I appoint another judge?" Lee asked.
?How long is forever," Redding replied.
In true Prince George's tradition, Bob Redding should have gotten the juvenile master's job. The way was paved and the courthouse door was open.
But the political maneuvering was not limited to his friend David Ross. Some judges privately thought Ross was pushing too hard and too openly and, moreover, that a well-known politician should not be appointed to the bench. "We will take the heat," one judge warned, asking that his name not be disclosed.
The attorney general's office decided the issue last week. Redding could not serve, the office ruled, because of a constitutional provision barring a legislator from appointment to a state position created while he was in office. lThe juvenile master's slot Redding sought was established during the last legislative session.
The juvenile master's job eventually went to Sparrough, "I think Judge (Vincent J.) Femia is greasing the skids for me," Sparrough said before her selection.
Redding was downcast. "I'm kind of in a turmoil," he said this week. "I was ready for a change in my lifestyle, and it didn't come off. I'll be back in the legislature next session, but I've got some hard decisions to make in the next year or so."