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Judgeships and high dudgeon

Howls of protest greeted news this week that Thomas V. Miller III’s appointment to the state’s district court had been approved.

Surely the fix was in!

Miller is the son of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Protest was inevitable. It has ever been thus with the allocation of that most succulent of political plums, the judgeship. There’s not that much raw patronage left in government, so judicial appointments are among the reformer’s top targets. They say a selection system overhaul is needed.

Critics say the appointment of Senator Miller’s son is all the proof anyone needs. Senator Miller and Gov. Martin O’Malley — who nominated Miller’s son — say they did nothing to tilt scales. Critics harrumphed.

The saga of political job seekers is a perennial for politicians, reformers and newspapers. The appointment of people with connections is always an opportunity for high dudgeon on the editorial board and for guffaws among reporters.

Amusing high jinks

It’s serious business, of course, choosing men and women of judgment for the judiciary. But that doesn’t mean the high jinks aren’t amusing.

When I worked in Jersey City years ago, a guy named Barney was made sealer of weights and measures.

“Hey, Barney,” one of his mates is said to have said, “how many ounces in a pound?”

“Oh, come on,” said an aggrieved Barney, “I’ve only been on the job a week.”

The iconic Baltimore entry in the lore of patronage went like this: A clubhouse leader calls the mayor on behalf of a job-seeking loyalist.

“What can he do?” the mayor asks.

“Nothing,” says the leader.

“Good,” says the mayor. “We won’t have to train him.”

One stalwart ended up manning a desk under the City Hall dome. There was nothing on his desk but a telephone.

“What can Joe do?” the mayor was asked one day,

“Well,” Hizzoner replied, “if the dome starts to fall, he’s to call me right away.”

The Miller case brings to mind a famous line from then-Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago after the mayor sent some business his son’s way.

What about the nepotism thing? Daley was asked.

What about it? the mayor said, in effect. If you can’t help your family, who can you help?

Politics as usual?

In the case of Senator Miller’s son, there may be a different story to tell. When he was first a candidate for the bench in Anne Arundel County, three members of the nominating commission protested — and then resigned. One member of the committee said Miller’s candidacy would “not be taken seriously” if his father were not Senate President Miller.

The nomination was derailed but a subsequent panel sent young Miller’s name to Gov. O’Malley, who made the appointment.

A Senate president’s importance to any governor is plain to see: a governor wants the best possible relationship with a senate president who can make or break a governor’s legislative agenda.

Critics suggest Miller III needed a political boost because he had little courtroom experience. He was in the public defender’s office in Prince George’s County for a year, in private practice for two and then served on the state’s Parole Commission for the last 14 years. Parole commissioners are not allowed to practice law — though much of their work involves the law.

As a political matter, it’s significant to observe that the senate president’s son has significant Republican support.

David Blumberg, the parole commission chairman and a former Republican Party official, has high regard for Miller.

Beyond that, his nomination won the endorsement of Sen. Alan H. Kittleman — a Republican, and no ally of the applicant’s father. He spent time interviewing the applicant and told The Sun he found a suitable temperament.

It would be impossibly naïve to suggest Senator Miller’s position had no bearing on the matter. But his son’s endorsement by two Republicans is something he earned on his own.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He is the author of “Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland.” His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.


One comment

  1. There once was a judicial nominee in another county, whose supervisor endorsed him highly – anything to get the candidate out of his office!