AUDREY CREIGHTON, the Montgomery County Circuit Court judge whose relationship with an ex-con has stirred controversy, will appear on the November general-election ballot after winning a Democratic Party nomination in Tuesday’s primary. So will Daniel Connell, the Poolesville attorney who raised questions about her conduct and whose candidacy has roiled the county’s legal community; he won a Republican nomination. Thus an already muddled process threatens to become even messier, a situation that should prompt state lawmakers finally to fix how judges are selected.
We recently detailed the dilemma surrounding this year’s election for four seats on the Montgomery Circuit Court. Judge Creighton is one of four sitting judges seeking election to 15-year terms. Maryland has a hybrid selection system whereby local judicial nominating commissions screen applicants and provide a list to the governor, from which he makes appointments. His choices face voters in the next election. Usually the incumbents are unchallenged and the elections attract little notice.
Not so this year after Judge Creighton was allegedly attacked by a felon with whom she had a close personal relationship. The man, who has a history of assaults, car thefts, burglaries and gun thefts, was a client of the judge when she was a public defender, and he lived with her for three months last year and three weeks this May. Questions about Judge Creighton’s conduct and judgment center on whether she initially misled police and whether she improperly gave him legal advice last year when he was charged with marijuana possession. Judge Creighton, who returned to the court this week after personal leave that followed the alleged attack on May 19, has declined comment. Sources have told us the matter has been referred to the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
We hope it’s sorted out by the time voters go to the polls. But the more important problem is the judge-picking system. District Court judges, appointed by the governor with Senate consent, don’t stand for election; appeals court judges face retention elections in which voters are given a yes-no option. Only circuit court judges must engage in competitive politicking, complete with fundraising and currying favor from people who may appear before them. And lest anyone think the races are nonpartisan, consider that Maryland’s irrational rules bar unaffiliated voters from selecting nominees in the primaries.
There have been past attempts at change. A thoughtful commission in 1996 called for the depoliticization of judicial selection and establishment of a merit system with more independence. We hope both gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Republican nominee Larry Hogan, will put judicial reform on their agendas.
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