When William R. Hymes became an assistant to the Howard County state's attorney in 1968, the court caseload was so light he was able to maintain a private law practice on the side, something he says is now impossible.

"At that time, we were only in court probably two days a week at the most," said Hymes, a Democrat, who is seeking his fourth term as state's attorney. Now, he said, the workload for prosecutors is much heavier.

The man who hired Hymes in the first place, former state's attorney Richard J. Kinlein, a Republican, is now challenging Hymes for the job. Kinlein says it would strengthen the office to reinstate the right of assistant state's attorneys to maintain private, non-criminal practices on the side.

"We should . . . not merely staff the entire office with inexperienced lawyers . . . who sometimes think they can't cut it on the outside," said Kinlein, who is now in private practice. Baltimore and Carroll counties allow their prosecutors to serve private clients, he said, a practice he says is "better for their professional development."

Kinlein said that "the major issue, as I perceive it," in the election is Hymes's investigation into the hanging death in May of Carl Jonathan Bowie, 19, of Columbia. The official finding of suicide, substantiated by an inquiry by the State Police, has been bitterly challenged by Bowie's relatives and friends.

Hymes said he has not been questioned about the case during his campaign appearances.

But Kinlein said, "People come up to me and say they are dissatisfied with Mr. Hymes" over the case. "They feel as though he has been, at best, insensitive. At worst, they contend he's been corrupt . . . . They feel like he's covering up for the police and not being totally open with a proper investigation."

Kinlein said that while he doesn't agree with that assessment, he believes the case "deserves a thorough investigation."

"Sometimes it's just as important to have the appearance of justice as to satisfy the needs of justice," he said. "You can't have the State Police investigating the county police. It causes resentment in and of itself. It infers that they are doing something illegal or inept."

In the race for Howard County sheriff, another courthouse job in which professionalism is a campaign issue, retired police lieutenant Michael A. Chiuchiolo is facing Richmond Laney, a product-evaluation engineer with Westinghouse Electric Corp.

Laney says he would be an activist sheriff, "pushing other parts of the administration to act" when citizens find their complaints go unheeded. The outgoing sheriff, Herbert L. Stonesifer, "has been another of the shadow sheriffs," he said. "He is in the mold of the sheriffs from a long time back: Stay in office and be invisible."

Chiuchiolo said the next sheriff should reorganize the office, something he said he would accomplish with the help of a special advisory committee.

Stonesifer was defeated in the Democratic primary after publicity about Nazi mimicry by two deputies.

That "controversy was caused by ineffective management," said Chiuchiolo, a 25-year veteran of police work. "A good manager recognizes problems and takes decisive action."

Longtime Clerk of the Court C. Merritt Pumphrey, first appointed in 1968, is being challenged by former Orphans Court Judge Margaret D. Rappaport. Rappaport has been critical of Pumphrey for allowing an undeputized assistant clerk to perform marriages and has characterized morale in the clerk's office as low.

Pumphrey, president of the state Court Clerks Association, said he is proud of his record of keeping up with changes in the state code and that he chose only to redeputize those assistants whose pension benefits needed to be protected under state law.

In the contest for register of wills, Republican William A. Thies Jr., a systems analyst with Chaselle Inc., is seeking to unseat Kay K. Hartleb, who has worked in the courthouse office for 13 years and has been register since 1986.

Democrats Rosemary M. Ford, C. Howard Strahler Jr. and Frank S. Turner are running against Republicans Charles M. Coles Jr., Ronald L. Ledford and Catherine Walters for the three Orphans Court judgeships. Ford and Turner are incumbents. Chief Judge Jean Gobbel is retiring after 11 years on the bench.

Circuit Court Judge James B. Dudley, appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer last year, is unopposed in seeking election to the post. He was challenged unsuccessfully last month by former prosecutor Jo Ann Branche, when both cross-filed in the Democratic and Republican primaries.