After 14 years as Montgomery County's chief prosecutor, State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner is vying for a position on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the second-highest court in the state.
Also applying is Stanley B. Frosh, 66, who for the past decade has served as a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge and with whom Sonner has often clashed.
Garrett County Circuit Court Judge Frederick A. Thayer III, 52, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge William W. Wenner, 55, and Karl G. Feissner, 53, a lawyer who practices in both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, also have applied for the opening created by the retirement Sept. 1 of Judge James S. Getty.
The Court of Special Appeals hears civil and criminal appeals from circuit court rulings across the state, unless a case either involves the death penalty or is so momentous that the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, takes it directly.
Frosh declined yesterday to discuss his candidacy for a seat on the higher court. But Sonner, 51, spoke freely of his readiness for a new challenge.
"In many ways I would prefer six or seven years more as a prosecutor . If I were to have a life to live again, I would want to live it again as state's attorney," Sonner said as he relaxed on a green leather sofa and watched storm clouds gather outside his fifth-floor office in the Rockville courthouse.
But because openings on the Court of Special Appeals are relatively rare -- judges are appointed for 10-year terms -- Sonner said he decided last month to apply.
"It's an exciting job," Sonner said of being an appellate judge. "I've been a student of criminal procedures and trial law and of the Court of Special Appeals, and I would like to be a part of the process."
Sonner said he thinks his chance of winning the appointment is "remote" because, traditionally, judges for Maryland's higher courts are picked from its lower courts.
"There's no perfect training for it. You train from life. It's like being a parent," he said.
Putting his experience of three years as a defense attorney and 19 years as a prosecutor to work on the court seems a natural progression, Sonner said.
"We have devised, for better or worse, a judicial system that is concerned with technicalities, and for that reason you have to be sure as a prosecutor and, I think, as a judge that the cases are conducted properly -- because if they're not conducted properly they're going to be overturned on appeal," Sonner said.
But he said he fears his image as a "fiery prosecutor and all that" may work against him.
"But I don't think you're going to find the people who know me well will say I am a 'police, hang 'em high,' Torquemada Chief Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition from 1420 to 1498 type of prosecutor, because I think that we have kept an even balance here," Sonner said.
The Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission, whose 13 members are appointed by the governor, is scheduled to meet July 24.
The commission will select those it regards as the most highly qualified of the five applicants and then submit the names to Gov. Harry Hughes, who must choose a judge from among the commission's nominees.