Being an Orphans' Court judge in Howard County might not pay a lot or carry a tremendous amount of prestige, but that hasn't stopped seven candidates from running for the court's three judgeships this year.

Four of the seven are Republicans, prompting a primary Sept. 11 to choose three GOP contenders.

The winning Republicans will take on three Democrats: Judge Rosemary M. Ford, Judge Frank S. Turner and C. Howard Strahler Jr. of Ellicott City, president of a commercial and advertising printing firm.

Chief Judge Jean Gobbel is retiring after 11 years on the bench.

Orphans' Court judges act as probate officers to review and certify wills and name guardians for certain beneficiaries -- such as minors or the mentally impaired -- of an estate. They are not required to hold a law degree and typically serve one day a week for a salary of about $5,000 a year.

"It's not usually considered a steppingstone to some higher position, and it doesn't pay a lot. There's no glamour, no nothing to it," said Republican challenger Edward S. Armanas, 46. "Most of us are running just for a chance to serve the public."

Armanas, an investor who lives in Ellicott City, said he has formed a slate with two other Republicans, Catherine Walters and Ronald L. Ledford, for the primary. All are active in the county GOP.

"We call ourselves the Friends of the Court, or the L.A.W. team after Walters, Armanas and Ledford," Armanas said. Armanas said the threesome hopes to persuade voters to elect the entire slate "because we think we would work best as a team."

Armanas said the Republican team was formed before Republican Charles Coles, 32, of Sykesville, entered the race.

Coles said he is more than qualified for the position because he is an appraiser for orphans' courts in Howard and Montgomery counties. In that role, he is sent out to determine how much an estate is worth.

"I would bring a good knowledge of the process to the position," said Coles, who also farms and drives a county school bus.

Armanas said he has the legal experience that comes from receiving a law degree and once serving as a legal aid worker. Walters, 35, of Columbia, is a member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee and a homemaker. And Ledford, 51, of Columbia, said his job as a budget officer for a large telephone company gives him the knowledge to deal with complicated financial matters. "We think we bring as much or more experience to the court than they {the Democrats} do," Armanas said.

He explained that with Gobbel retiring and Turner only recently appointed, the only judge with "any real court experience is Ford."

Turner disputes that contention. The county's first black judge, he was appointed to the Orphans' Court in May to succeed Republican Margaret D. Rappaport, who stepped down to challenge Democrat C. Merritt Pumphrey for clerk of the Circuit Court in the general election Nov. 6.

Turner, 43, of Columbia, said his 14 weeks on the bench have not only provided him with insight into the workings of the court, but also that he brings to the office extensive legal training as an assistant professor of business law and real estate at Morgan State University.

Democrat Strahler, 50, said he is seeking a seat on the Orphans' Court "to bring new blood to the court . . . to maintain that open-mindedness for which the court is known for."