The job is only part time, the office not well known and the race has been quiet. In fact, the campaign has been so low-key that four of the six Democrats seeking a judgeship in the Prince George's County Orphans Court are arguing that the two other competitors should be elected first.

Three seats on the bench are up for grabs, but the four candidates have spent most of their campaigns for the Sept. 11 primary targeting the third seat, vacated when David Valderrama resigned July 5 to run for the Maryland House of Delegates, and acknowledging that two incumbents should be returned to office.

"I'm looking forward to working with the incumbents. I'm not looking to unseat" them, Jeffrey Fisher said. "However, I'm also looking to be one of the top three chosen by the voters."

"It's not really a campaign where you take issue or stand for anything political," Dee Frances Alban said. "I just need to show that I have the willingness and the dedication to serve the people.

Unlike tax, traffic and criminal courts, Orphans Court judges hear cases on Tuesday and Friday only. The office has no educational requirements, and judges are allowed to continue their professions while serving on the court.

The court, which takes its name from the Court of Orphans of the City of London, has jurisdiction over probate matters, estates, trusts and the temporary guardianship of minors.

In its last session, the General Assembly raised the salaries of associate judges to $25,000 from $20,000 and $25,500 from $20,500 for the chief judge, who is chosen by the governor.

Chief Judge Lucy B. Warr and Associate Judge Albert W. Northrop, both Democrats, are seeking reelection. The other Democratic contenders are Alban, Fisher, George Trees and Angelo Castelli. Two Republicans also are running for the seats, but because three seats are available, their names automatically will be placed on the November general election ballot.

Castelli, 56, an Oxon Hill lawyer, was chosen by Democratic leaders to fill the party slate with the two incumbent judges. He recently left the county school board after 12 years to run for the Orphans Court.

"Every lawyer deep down in his heart would love to put on judicial robes," Castelli said.

If Fisher, of Upper Marlboro, is elected to the court he would make the second generation of judges in his family. His father retired from the District Court bench three years ago. Fisher, 40, is a lawyer specializing in probate, real estate and commercial law.

The head of a small Oxon Hill printing company, Trees, 68, ran unsuccessfully for the Orphans Court four years ago as a Republican. Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in the county almost 3 to 1, and Trees switched parties for this campaign.

"I realized that as a Republican you can get all {your party's} votes but you can't win," Trees said. "I felt I wasn't participating in the world of politics in Prince George's County because as a Republican my vote wasn't worth anything."

Albans, 33, of Upper Marlboro, completed herassociate's degree in paralegal studies this spring and hopes to attend the University of Maryland's law school while serving on the Orphans Court bench.

Northrop, 42, a resident of Upper Marlboro and a lawyer in private practice, said the county's population surge, accompanied by an increase in drug activity, would result in a larger caseload for the court in the term that begins in January.

"Well over half of the {guardianship cases} consist of grandparents attempting to get guardianship of a child because the father is absent and the mother is on drugs," he said.

Warr, 68, a United Way planning director, agreed that the Orphans Court dockets, often crowded with 20 cases a day, will increase as the county becomes more populated and drug activity increases.

"It's becoming more and more time consuming. As long as the laws and society increase we will feel the results of that," said Warr, who was appointed to the court in 1984 by Gov. Harry Hughes to serve the remaining term of Sen. Decatur Trotter.

The top three vote-getters among the Democrats in the primary will face the two Republicans in the November general election: Richmond Davis, 44, a lawyer in private practice in Laurel, and Thomas Havron, a 24-year-old computer consultant from Laurel.