Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Maryland Court of Appeals asked the Maryland General Assembly today to change the law that requires circuit court judges to take part in partisan elections.

In his annual State of the Judiciary speech before a joint session of the legislature and Gov. Harry Hughes, Murphy urged adoption of a procedure in which voters would be asked either to retain or reject judges.

Currently, judges must stand election within two years of appointment by the governor, and every 15 years thereafter, and can be challenged by a specific opponent.

"Many of the best lawyers that the system needs desperately refuse to seek appointment to the circuit court, when the risk of the defeat at the polls is so great, the election expense so high, and the effect upon their legal careers so devastating should they not be elected," Murphy said.

The change was one of a number of recommendations made by the 16-member Judicial Commission appointed last year at Murphy's request. Murphy also asked that legislators to:

* Replace juvenile court "masters" with regular judges. Murphy said the present system is "symbolic of second-class justice in a field of law which demands the application of the best brand of judicial expertise that our society can possibly muster."

* Change the law so that juries in criminal cases decide only the facts and not the law also. Murphy said Maryland is the only state that operates under such an "archaic" system.

* Reduce the size of juries in civil cases from 12 to six to save money.

* Amend the law that allows district court decisions to be appealed de novo (off the record) at the circuit court level. Murphy said defendants now often use the procedure to delay justice because they know they cannot get a stiffer sentence. He urged that the circuit court judges be empowered to impose a stiffer sentence.