Maryland Court of Special Appeals Judge Robert L. Karwacki yesterday was appointed to a vacancy on the state's highest court by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The elevation of the 57-year-old jurist to the Court of Appeals ends a political tug-of-war over the appointment between the governor and some Eastern Shore politicians, led by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent), who wanted to see a native of the Eastern Shore on the court.
Karwacki will fill the vacancy on the seven-member court created by the retirement last summer of Judge William H. Adkins II. Adkins was from the judicial circuit that covers the Eastern Shore.
Karwacki moved to Chester on the Eastern Shore in 1985, but was born in Baltimore and spent most of his career there. He practiced with one of the state's largest law firms, Miles & Stockbridge, and then sat on the Baltimore bench for 11 years. He has served on the state's intermediate appeals court since 1984.
Schaefer chose Karwacki from a slate of three nominees, including Wicomico County Circuit Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr. and Salisbury trial lawyer K. King Burnett, who were selected by the state's 13-member appellate nominating commission.
Mitchell, asked yesterday about the choice of Karwacki, said only, "I am sure he will make a great judge."
Truitt's chances may have been hurt by a 1988 decision in which another Maryland judge ruled that Truitt failed to disclose evidence critical to the defense in a 1969 murder trial. Truitt was then the Wicomico County State's Attorney and tried the case himself.
The 22-year-old defendant in the case, James Branch Wise, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He spent more than two decades there, much of it fighting for a new trial through state and federal courts.
In 1988, Howard County Circuit Judge J. Thomas Nissel criticized Truitt's handling of the case in a strongly worded opinion that granted Wise a new trial. Nissel ruled that Truitt failed to disclose that he had made a deal with William Mack, Wise's alleged partner in crime and later the prosecution's chief witness against Wise.
Truitt has vehemently denied the allegations, testifying at a 1985 federal hearing that as the county's lone prosecutor he had an "open file" policy, granting all defense lawyers access to his files. He testified he was "certain" he had given the file to Wise's lawyers.
Karwacki is viewed as a moderate jurist who has been a workhorse on the busy intermediate appeals court.
The state's highest court is fairly conservative on most issues, and there is a fair amount of unanimity among the judges on criminal justice issues, according to Maryland lawyers. Karwacki's appointment, they said, is unlikely to change that.
Bethesda lawyer Durke Thompson, who heads a Maryland bar panel that evaluates judicial nominees, said Karwacki is a "pragmatist, who has been . . . a strong player on the Court of Special Appeals." Thompson said Karwacki's "impact will likely be in the area of rules and procedure, figuring out how to move cases through the system." END NOTES