Two Circuit Court judges in Anne Arundel County apparently lost to challengers on Election Day last week in an upset that remakes what was the only bench in the state to have been appointed entirely by former Democratic governor Parris N. Glendening.
Out are Democrats Rodney C. Warren, the only African American judge on the bench, and -- by a decisive margin, with a scant percentage of votes left to count -- David S. Bruce. In are Republicans Paul G. Goetzke, counsel to the mayor of Annapolis, and Paul F. Harris, a lawyer in private practice.
Of the three incumbents in the race, only Democrat Michele D. Jaklitsch survived. The victors won 15-year terms on the bench, with salaries starting at over $120,000 a year.
All that remained Election Day, other than counting the remaining ballots, was the inevitable post-election analysis. Had the county drifted right? Was it rejecting the legacy of Glendening? Might there have been a racial dimension to the ouster of Warren?
In an interview, Goetzke, who was city attorney for a decade, credited his deep county roots, his qualifications for the job and what he called public frustration with the leniency of the bench.
"Nothing that I put out to the public disclosed my party affiliation, and moreover I had substantial cross-party support," said Goetzke, 44, the highest vote-getter of the six candidates.
Some local civil rights leaders have expressed concern over the loss of the bench's only black jurist, but Goetzke, who has used a wheelchair since a diving accident in 2000, argued that the bench became more diverse last week.
"You have now a bench that includes a judge in a wheelchair and you no longer have 10 judges appointed by the same governor," he said. "You no longer have 10 Democrats. You have two judges who are Republicans."
Harris said that as a candidate he also did not advertise his party affiliation, adding that he suspects he received almost as many Democratic votes as Republican. "Anybody who wants to make it a partisan issue I think is missing the point," Harris said.
James P. Nolan, who ran the campaign for the incumbent judges, said "the challengers ran a very smart and astute political race. They appealed to the Republican majority, the anti-Glendening voters, and won."
Nolan said he believed the incumbents were hurt by the electoral system, in which candidates appear on the ballot with no mention of incumbency. That's significant, he said, because the sitting judges were vetted by a judicial nominating commission and found to be worthy. He said the incumbents did an "exemplary job on the bench, and the unfortunate thing is I think the voters are not really educated on these judicial elections."
"Most voters don't have enough information to make reasoned decisions," Nolan said. "I know there are people who disagree with that."
Goetzke said he ran to "restore balance" to a bench that he said was the second most lenient in the state, departing downward from sentencing guidelines more frequently than every place but Baltimore.
He said the handling of one case in particular seemed cause enough to enter the race: the brutal slaying of Straughan Lee Griffin in the city's historic district in September 2002. Two Anne Arundel judges, neither of whom were running this year, suppressed statements the case's two defendants allegedly made to police. One of the defendants still faces trial because an appellate court reversed the county judge. The other defendant has been released from the Anne Arundel County detention center.
Incumbent Michele D. Jaklitsch was the sole survivor in race.