Frank Turner, a professor of business law and real estate and a part-time assistant to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), was sworn in Monday as the first black judge in the history of Howard County.
Turner, 42, a resident of Columbia who has taught at Morgan State University since 1974, was appointed an associate judge of the Orphans Court, a three-judge court dealing with wills and estates.
"I'm ecstatic" about the appointment, said C. Vernon Gray, the only black member of the Howard County Council. "It's long overdue." Turner twice was Gray's campaign treasurer.
Turner was appointed by Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer to serve the remaining six months of the four-year term of Marge Rappaport, who plans to run for clerk of the Circuit Court in November. The Orphans Court judgeship is a one-day-a-week job, paying $5,000 a year.
Turner said he will run for election to a full term this year.
In the past decade, several black candidates have unsuccessfully applied for appointments to the county's District and Circuit courts. But it is only in the past 20 years or so that black lawyers have begun "to make strides" in the profession in the county, said Lilly Price-Wesley, a lawyer who has sought a Circuit judgeship.
A 62-member, predominantly black association of lawyers called the Warring/Mitchell Law Society of Howard County, named after two of Maryland's early black lawyers, has been pressing for a black appointment to the bench.
Turner said there is "a certain degree of amazement that it took quite a time" for a black judge to be named in the county.
"It's been a great issue throughout my membership" in the lawyers group, said Jo Glasco, a founder of the group.
As of 1986, more than 13 percent of the county population is non-white.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are black lawyers who have applied for judgeships who meet the qualifications to become a judge," Glasco said.
She said the society is "very proud of Frank and his accomplishments. But we're also looking forward to the day when a black attorney can be appointed to sit on the District Court or Circuit Court or Court of Appeals from out here."
Orphans Court judges are elected for four-year terms in Baltimore City and all counties except Montgomery and Harford, where Circuit Court judges administer probate.
A Howard resident since 1975, Turner is from North Carolina, where he received degrees from North Carolina Central University and attended the University of North Carolina. He served as chairman of the Morgan State department of business administration from 1980 to 1985, and handles small business affairs and outreach for Mikulski from her Baltimore office. He was deputy campaign manager for her Senate campaign.