IN INDIVIDUALLY taped campaign videos, each of the four sitting judges seeking election Tuesday to the Montgomery County Circuit Court stresses the rigorous process by which he or she gained a seat on the bench. Each filled out a 38-point questionnaire and underwent vetting by an expert nominating commission, intensive questioning and an interview by the governor. That is why, they say, voters should select them and not someone who hasn’t gone through that process.
Normally we would agree. We have long believed that a careful appointment process produces the best qualified judges. But controversy about one incumbent vying in Tuesday’s contested primaries, Judge Audrey Creighton, raises questions not only about her fitness to serve but also about the process that selected her.
Judge Creighton, 53, a former District Court judge appointed to the Circuit Court in February, is seeking a 15-year term in Tuesday’s primary. She has been on extended personal leave following a May 19 incident in which she was allegedly attacked by an ex-convict with whom she had a close personal relationship. Rickley Joshua Senning, a 24-year-old with a history of assaults, car thefts, burglaries and gun thefts, has been charged with assaulting and kidnapping the judge and stealing her car. He has pleaded not guilty.
Media reports and the inevitable courthouse gossip have tended toward the salacious, overlooking that, if the authorities are right, Judge Creighton was the victim of terrifying domestic abuse. Also overshadowed, according to her supporters, is that she’s an able and considerate jurist who, as the second Latina on the court, brings needed diversity to the bench.
As much as we are sympathetic to any victim of crime, legitimate concerns about her judgment and conduct have been raised, including by Daniel Connell, an attorney who is challenging the sitting judges in Tuesday’s primary. Did she, as police records suggest, mislead police by first telling them her relationship with Mr. Senning was platonic? And last year, when Mr. Senning was living with Judge Creighton and was arrested for possession of marijuana, did she assist him in writing a legal motion to quash a bench warrant that had been issued for him? The Maryland code of judicial conduct bars sitting judges from practicing law.
Judge Creighton has not returned phone calls seeking comment from reporters. Her attorney, Paul Kemp, told us that she is constrained from commenting because she is a victim of a crime and by the possibility of an investigation by the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
Lacking any public explanation from Judge Creighton, voters are faced with a dilemma on Tuesday: Return her to a 15-year term and trust the judicial commission to take action if appropriate, or elect a candidate who did not go through the traditional vetting process. It’s an unsupportable choice, another reason why Maryland lawmakers need to reform the selection process for judges.