Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, after intense lobbying by black elected officials, has thrown his support behind Assistant State's Attorney Sheila R. Tillerson for a seat on the Fifth Judicial District Court.

The move paves the way for the county to send its first black woman to the court if approved by a nominating commission and appointed by the governor. Glendening's support for Tillerson comes after weeks of political jockeying for three key court positions that have or are expected to become vacant in the coming weeks.

Until last week, when Judge James H. Taylor retired from the bench, there were two blacks on the District Court and two blacks on the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over Prince George's, Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles counties.

One District Court seat opened up last month when Judge Graydon S. McKee III was appointed to the Circuit Court. Taylor's seat is widely expected to go to District Court Judge William Missouri, leaving a second vacancy on the lower court.

Black elected officials increasingly view the number of black judges on the two courts as a key issue. But just as important, they said, is the need for black leaders to be brought into the decision-making process when vacancies occur. "You only have two blacks out of 16 judges on the Circuit Court and two out of 10 on the District Court," said Alex Williams, Prince George's state's attorney and member of the Prince George's County Alliance of Black Elected Officials, a group made up of the 13 black state senators, delegates, county council and school board members. "The {alliance} is interested in increasing the number of black judges. Black elected officials should be brought into the process."

Glendening had initially indicated support for County Attorney Larnzell Martin Jr. for the District Court post but shifted his position after meeting with Williams and state Sen. Albert R. Wynn (D-Prince George's). Martin, who also is black, withdrew his name for consideration "to deflate the rumors" that Glendening was pushing him over Tillerson.

Other possible black candidates include Assistant State's Attorney Jacqueline Byrd and lawyer Elvira White.

Once the judicial candidates have applied for the job and been rated by the Prince George's Bar Association, the nominating commission will review them and make its recommendations to the governor. Although elected officials are not necessarily part of this process, the support of the county's political establishment is considered a boost for a candidate.

Some black officials accused Glendening of trying to circumvent a tradition of conferring with black elected officials about the appointment of blacks to key positions, particularly to the bench.

Others, however, said the problem was the lack of communication between Glendening and black elected officials, who had already decided to back Tillerson when Martin's name surfaced.

Glendening said he became embroiled in the process when approached by members of the county's black legal community who asked him to agree to release Martin from his commitment as county attorney so that he could apply for judge.

"I told Larnzell if you want it, consider yourself released," Glendening said. Then "some people asked why am I supporting Larnzell. I said, I'm not. I'm just not holding him back. Sheila is the main contender and I've indicated I'd support her. We need someone of that caliber. It would be a terrible mistake not to have the name of a qualified black attorney on the governor's desk."

Black elected officials said the building of a political consensus around Tillerson was a test of strength of who will make recommendations on key black appointments in the future. It is also a show of black political muscle in a county with a population nearing 50 percent black, they said.

Earlier this year, black elected officials clashed with Glendening when they successfully sought the appointment of former Seat Pleasant mayor Henry Arrington to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.