A veteran Howard County judge and a former county public defender will replace two Howard County Circuit Court judges who retired this year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced this week.
Ehrlich chose Howard County District Judge Louis A. Becker and lawyer Richard S. Bernhardt from a short list of about a half-dozen candidates recommended by the 13-member Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard, group Chairman Michael W. Davis said. Becker and Bernhardt have 30 days to take the seats.
They will take over for Judge James B. Dudley, who retired in January, and Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr., who stepped down in June. They will serve until next year, when there will be an election for the 15-year terms.
"They're not legislative-type judges," Davis said. "They're both going to be very people-oriented. . . . Both Becker and Bernhardt will care."
Davis said he has known Becker, 61, for more than a decade. He pointed to Becker's innovative sentencing during his 16 years in district court. As head of the county's new drug court, Becker, who is a Democrat, said he often assigns troubled youths community service instead of giving them fines. He sometimes requires them to read books on alcoholism or drug abuse or write essays on why their actions are illegal, immoral and unethical.
"You can't lock everybody up for long periods of time," Becker said. "My feeling was it was important to try to give people some knowledge. What they do with it is up to them."
Bernhardt, a 47-year-old Republican, has investigated insurance fraud as an assistant attorney general with the Maryland Insurance Administration since 2000 and is no stranger to Howard County. He spent 14 years as an assistant public defender in the county. He also works with the nonprofit HC DrugFree and the Howard County Mental Health Authority. Bernhardt said his decades of public service and his involvement in the community have helped prepare him for the judgeship.
"I feel that I understand the role of the court and the role of attorneys in cases that go to trial," he said. "It's my goal that when a case is done that both parties will feel that they've been treated with respect and treated fairly."
Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone (D) said he has worked with Becker and Bernhardt. He called Becker "the heart and soul" of the county's drug court and said Bernhardt was always "thoroughly prepared and the consummate professional."
"All the people on the short list were very fine individuals, and the governor could not possibly have gone wrong with anyone from that list," McCrone said.
Before he became a judge in 1989, Becker was a law partner at Becker, Spahn, Harvia, Fila & Colt in Columbia. He graduated from Loyola College in Maryland in 1965 and the University of Baltimore Law School in 1970.
Bernhardt worked as a public defender in Baltimore. He graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1980 and its law school in 1983.
Both live in Ellicott City with their wives and children.