In an unusual move, the city's currently deadlocked judicial selection commission has asked the four judges seeking to head the D.C. Superior Court to write papers indicating "How I shall proceed if, I am designated chief judge."
During discussions and interviews with the four candidates over the last two weeks, the seven-member D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission has been unable to agree not only on a choice for chief judge of the city's trial court but also on the primary qualifications to be emphasized in the selection process.
Late last week, with matters still unsettled, the commission decided to ask the four, Judges James A. Belson, Joyce Hens Green, H. Carl Moultrie I and Tim Murphy to submit the written papers on how they would handle the job.
In its letter to the judges, the commission asked them to list, in order of priority, what they see as the major problems at Superior Court, to propose solutions and a time frame for resolving those problems and to suggest any innovation steps that the candidate felt could be implemented in the trial court. The commission asked that the written statements be submitted by June 5, sources said.
The commission's letter said the plan submitted by the judge eventually selected may be used as a "benchmark or guide" to evaluate how the new chief judge's administration "was proceeding or had proceeded," knowledgeable sources said. The chief judge is designated for a four-year term.
The new chief judge will succeed Chief Judge Harold H. Greene, whose nomination to the U.S. District Court bench here was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Greene, who has been on the local trial court for 12 years and has served more than 11 years as chief judge, is expected to leave the Superior Court in mid-June.
None of the four candidates is thought to be unqualified for the job. Rather, sources said, each is thought to be capable of taking charge of the court and doing well.
However, there has been vigorous debate within the commission over whether a primary qualification to be considered should be a judge's forceful administrative style or a judge's sensitivity to community concerns, sources have said.
Other issues that have been raised in the commission's deliberations include tenure on the bench, overall legal experience and the ability to deal with the new home rule government and Congress.
Some blacks in the city have argued that Moultrie, a former president of the NAACP, and the only black under consideration, ought to be appointed to head the court that most touches the lives of ordinary citizens in Washington, a 75 percent black city.
Other persons have said that it ought to go to Green so that a woman could hold a high judicial position in the city.
Belson, a former partner in the distinguished Hogan and Hartson law firm, has received strong support from established bar members, who feel that he could best straighten out the administrative problems of the court.
Green, 49, impressed some commission members with imaginative ideas about the administration of the court, sources have said. She has been a judge for 10 years and during that time has earned respect in legal circles for her careful and sensitive handling of various issues in her courtroom.
Murphy, a Superior Court judge since 1966, is considered a tough administrator and has contributed to various research projects about court operations. But some critics have contended that the former U.S. Attorney has been too strict at times with persons appearing before him.
At a commission meeting on May 20, a straw vote showed that Belson had the support of three commission members, and the remainder of the votes were split between Judges Moultrie and Green, sources said.
These sources said however, that at that time some commission members indicated they might shift to Moultrie and the commission decided to interview him a second time. Each of the four candidates had been interviewed by the commission earlier.
Moultrie met with five of the seven commission members Wednesday night in the judge's conference room at the U.S. District Courthouse here but, according to one source, questions remained.
Subsequently, the commission decided to ask each of the four judges to submit a "plan to the judicial nomination commission indicating how I shall proceed if I am designated chief judge," sources said.
Charles T. Duncan, former dean of Howard Law School, is chairman of the Commission. The other members are U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Gasch, lumber yard and hardware store executive John Hechinger, labor official William Lucy and three local lawyers, Willie L. Leitwich, Frederick B. Abramson, and Maryann Stein.