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Michelle Daughtery Siri (File)

Group claims Balt. Co. picks for judicial nominating commission not diverse enough

Gov. Larry Hogan has yet to appoint a judge in any state court, but who might be helping him vet candidates in Baltimore County has raised concerns among minority groups.

The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, in a letter written April 21, asked the governor to remand the proposed nominations for the county’s Trial Court Judicial Nominating Commission because all four people chosen are white men.

The WLC claims Baltimore County Bar Association President T. Wray McCurdy, who selected three nominees and himself, did not follow Hogan’s executive order requiring Bar association presidents to “consult with the presidents of other Bar organizations, including specialty Bar associations.”

“Unfortunately, we believe the process was not properly followed for Baltimore County, leading to a slate of nominees that does not accurately represent the full spectrum of potential qualified candidates,” the letter states.

Michelle Daugherty Siri, executive director of the WLC, said in an interview Friday the county’s nominating commission traditionally has not been diverse. Of the commission’s 13 current members, only two are women and a majority are white. There are no female minority members on the nominating commission.

“The historical perception is that this is a boys’ club, rightly or wrongly,” Siri said.

The Baltimore Carroll Chapter of The Women’s Bar Association of Maryland Inc. wrote its own letter to Hogan on Friday expressing concerns about the lack of diversity.

“The process of selection by [McCurdy] is obscured and the slate proposed by him fails to represent the diverse make-up of the Baltimore County Bar,” states the letter, signed by President Amy M. Feldman, a Towson solo practitioner.

The letter acknowledges Bar presidents in Baltimore city and Carroll County also did not confer with the specialty Bar but that only Baltimore County’s proposed slate contains no females or minorities.

McCurdy, in an interview Friday, said that of the 27 applications received, there was only one person of color who had limited trial experience in the county and only one woman who did not have enough experience overall. All Bar association members were notified three times in February that applications were due the first week in March.

In looking at applicants, McCurdy said he wanted to appoint people who could provide guidance to the nominating commission. The Essex solo practitioner, along with nominees Richard M. Karceski, a Towson solo practitioner, Robert L. Hanley Jr. of Nolan, Plumhoff & Williams Chtd. in Towson, and Drake Zaharris, managing director of Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson, each have more than 30 years of trial experience in the county.

“In hindsight, I wished I had provided the list of 27 to [the women’s Bar] and let them evaluate the males,” he said.

McCurdy wrote his own letter to the governor last week recapping events and requesting Hogan remove him from the slate and replace him with Margaret A. Mead, who he wrote was qualified but submitted her application 10 days late.

Shareese DeLeaver Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is still deciding on his appointments to all of the nominating commissions.

“Gov. Hogan will continue to make appointments that both embrace and reflect the diversity of our state,” she said.

Judicial nominating commissions review the applicants to fill vacancies on Maryland’s district and circuit courts and pass on recommendations to the governor, who is not bound by their recommendations, although former governor Martin O’Malley’s practice was to pick from the forwarded list.

O’Malley issued an executive order in 2008 to dissolve the existing nominating commissions and create new ones. Hogan’s executive order, issued in February, is similar to his predecessor’s in that he will appoint nine members for each of the trial court commission districts, with Bar association presidents in each commission district picking the final four members. Hogan will pick the chair for each commission.

(At the appellate court level, Hogan will pick a dozen members of the nominating commission, with the Maryland State Bar Association president selecting the final five members.)

Both Siri and McCurdy said they hope to get a more diverse applicant pool the next time around.

“Our endgame isn’t just to get a woman on this nominating commission,” Siri said. “It’s to figure out why women aren’t applying.”

McCurdy, in his letter to Hogan, said he and Feldman discussed “remedy compliance” and he offered to help her draft “more specific recommendations for future executive orders.”

“I think the next time around,” McCurdy said Friday, “the people that are now writing letters will be more proactive in enlisting their membership to apply.”

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts, president-elect of the county Bar association, said she is “absolutely concerned” about the potential lack of diversity on the nominating commission, both as a black woman and a member of the Bar.

“We need people who represent all parts of the community, not just in terms of race and gender but different practice areas,” said Ballou-Watts, adding she was not involved in the nomination process but has nothing against McCurdy nor the other nominees.