A state judicial nominating commission in Charles County has sent to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. the names of four residents for the county's District Court vacancy.

Twelve people applied for the $112,252-a-year position. The 13-member commission met Monday to interview the candidates before narrowing the list, which it made public Tuesday.

Ehrlich (R), who has not set a deadline for appointing a judge, plans to interview each finalist before making his selection, said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor.

Nominations submitted to the governor were for Patrick J. Devine, Helen I. Harrington, John L. Keller and Thomas R. Simpson Jr.

Among the surprises, said people familiar with the applicant pool, were the omissions from the list of Del. W. Louis Hennessy (R-Charles) and Charles County Attorney Roger L. Fink. Commission Chairman William R. Greer Jr. did not return calls to his office seeking comment about the selection process, which is generally kept private.

Under the Maryland Constitution, the governor is responsible for filling open judgeships with a person who meets certain basic qualifications, including being a U.S. citizen, a Maryland resident and a member of the Maryland bar.

The state constitution also says that those selected for judgeships will be lawyers "most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge."

Since the retirement last month of Judge Gary S. Gasparovic, who served since 1989, the Charles County District Court has had only one sitting judge, Richard A. Cooper, said Rita Buettner of the state court information office in Annapolis.

Cooper was appointed in 1997, the last time a District Court vacancy occurred in Charles County, Buettner said.

Among the finalists, Devine, 41, said he has been a lawyer in Charles County for 14 years. Devine, who is in private practice in La Plata, graduated from Catholic University's School of Law in 1989. He also worked for the Charles County state's attorney's office from 1990 to 1995, he said.

Devine said being a judge would be "an opportunity to be more involved in the legal community. And I enjoy the courtroom."

Harrington, 54, said she has been practicing law since 1980, after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center. She moved to Charles County in 1987 and was assistant state's attorney until 1992, she said.

Harrington was then appointed master for domestic relations, a judicial office at the Charles County Courthouse in which she conducts hearings on family law cases.

She said becoming a district judge would "provide interesting challenges in a variety of different kinds of cases." Harrington, a resident of La Plata, said it would also provide "an opportunity to be of service."

Simpson, 57, of Port Tobacco said he has practiced law for 31 years in the county. In addition to working at his private practice, he is an assistant county attorney, handling cases of children in need of assistance for the Charles County Department of Social Services.

Simpson, who graduated from the University of Tulsa in 1972, was a law clerk for Charles County Circuit Court Judge James C. Mitchell from 1972 to 1973, he said. He also served as the juvenile master from 1974 to 1980 for the Charles County Circuit Court.

"I think I'm very qualified for the job because of my 31 years of experience, practicing before the District and Circuit courts of Southern Maryland," Simpson said. "I'm very humbled and pleased that the commission saw fit to forward my name to the governor. I'm looking forward to my interview with him."

Keller, 52, of Waldorf, graduated from Louisiana State University Law Center in 1977. Keller said he has practiced law in the county for 26 years, primarily in private practice. He said he was an associate of Gasparovic's from 1977 to 1981.

Keller was also an elected member of the Charles County Board of Education from 1986 to 1990 and is now the standing examiner for the Charles County Circuit Court, taking uncontested cases referred to him by the court.

"I'm honored to have been selected, and I'm humbled by the experience," Keller said. "I feel an affinity for the court."