By all accounts, the Howard County Judicial Nominating Commission has sent to Gov. William Donald Schaefer a list of bright, talented and qualified candidates from which to choose a new circuit court judge.

But there has been almost as much talk about who did not make the list -- specifically, Howard County District Judge Lenore Gelfman.

The commission's nominees for the $82,000-a-year post are Lewis Nippard, a lawyer; Bernard Raum, master in chancery for the circuit court; Deputy State's Attorney Dennis Sweeney; and Louis Willemin, a public defender.

Nine applicants were interviewed for the position, left vacant when J. Thomas Nissel announced that he would retire at the end of the year.

J. Thomas Rees, chairman of the commission, said the four nominees sent to Schaefer were chosen on the first ballot. To be nominated, candidates must receive a majority of votes from the commission, which is composed of seven lay members and six lawyers.

"They have a wealth of experience in the law, and they seemed to have varied experiences," Rees said. "And they answered everybody's questions to the majority's satisfaction."

But some lawyers were dismayed that Gelfman, a district judge since last year, did not make the commission's list. Gelfman was endorsed by the Howard County Bar Association.

"Some people are surprised," said one prominent local lawyer who asked not to be identified. "They figured that because she was a district judge, she automatically would have been picked for circuit court."

Rees declined to give details about why Gelfman wasn't selected, saying only that "she did interview well, but she just failed to get the proper number of votes . . . . That doesn't mean she wouldn't make it if she applied the next time."

Schaefer may appoint one of the commission's nominees or another candidate.

The nominees chosen by the commission come from a variety of legal backgrounds, and according to local lawyers and members of the commission, would bring different strengths to the circuit bench. Circuit judges hear major criminal and juvenile cases, decide civil matters involving more than $1,000, and hear appeals from the district court.

Nippard, 62, is the oldest and most experienced of the nominees. Nippard, who served as an assistant state's attorney from 1956 to 1958, has been in private practice 34 years.

He said he applied for the judgeship because, "of the things I've done in my life, public service gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment."

Raum, 46, who has twice applied for circuit judge, has been master of chancery for nine years, a job in which he hears domestic relations cases.

Colleagues call Raum a "student of the law," which he takes as a compliment. "I take a great deal of pride in the legal profession," Raum said. "The more we know about what's going on in the law, the more efficient and effective we'll be."

Sweeney, 45, has served as deputy attorney general since 1984 and has been in the attorney general's office 11 years. Sweeney, described by a member of the commission as "very, very, very even keel," has lived in Howard County since 1987 and applied for a circuit court seat in 1988.

He said the variety of cases he's handled while in the attorney general's office has done much to prepare him for a judgeship.

"Being a deputy state's attorney, you have your hand, your foot, your whole body in a whole bunch of legal issues," Sweeney said. "You get to see everything under the sun."

Willemin, 37, has been a public defender for 12 years, working in both Baltimore and Howard County. Until this year, he also had a private practice, handling civil cases.

Willemin also is known as a "very good student of the law, who knows the law inside out," according to a member of the commission.

Willemin said he applied because "I have a lot of litigation experience, both trial and appellate. I feel like I have the right attitude."