ANNAPOLIS – Women make up 25 percent of Maryland’s 250 sitting judges, compared to only 5 percent of 204 judgeships in 1981, recent court figures show.
Women advocacy groups give credit for the increase to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who campaigned on a promise of a more diverse judiciary.
“Glendening has a wonderful record of appointing women,” said Susan Elgin, president of the state Women’s Law Center in Towson, which monitors state courts on behalf of women and children. “I think his staff is attuned to making sure women are appointed.”
Since taking office in 1995, Glendening has made 63 judicial appointments, 23 of them women.
But Andrea Leahy, Glendening’s legal counsel, said it is not the number of female appointments that is important, but that many of them were historic in nature. For instance:
* Sally Adkins, appointed to the Wicomico County Circuit Court in July 1996, became the first female judge on the district or circuit court on the Eastern Shore.
* Glendening also appointed Howard County’s first African- American judge — Alice Clark of the district court.
* In December 1995, Glendening appointed Audrey Carrion to Baltimore’s district court judge. She is the state’s first Hispanic judge of either sex.
“By making these kinds of appointments, it sends a message to the Hispanic and Latino community,” Carrion said. “It lets them know that the judicial system, as well as all other branches of government, are open to all kinds of people and to all colors.”
Carrion and Clark are among the 15 members of racial minority groups Glendening has appointed, bringing the number of minority judges to 36 — 14 percent of the state’s judiciary.
“There is something wrong when there is not a reflection of the population,” said Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for the governor. “The governor wanted to reverse that pattern.”
Glendening issued an executive order in 1995 increasing the number of members he appoints to trial court nominating commissions. He also increased the number of commissions from 15 to 16. Leahy said the order has given the governor the ability to choose more women and African-Americans than in the past.
“It gives him a broader pool from which to select judges from,” she said, adding, “He will continue to look for who is most qualified.”
Elgin, of the Women’s Law Center, said the order’s more important impact was to change the previous system, which tended to favor white male nominees.
“Now there are various women on the nominating commissions,” she said. “It has been a good conduit of getting people into judgeships.”
Joanne Saltzberg, executive director for the Maryland Commission for Women, agreed that the order and Glendening’s actions have helped, but said more needs to be done in the future.
“When you have waited so long for equity, there is a certain amount of impatience that goes along with that,” she said. “It has been painfully slow, but we now can look and see a significant diversity.”
It is unclear how Maryland compares to other states on the number of women judges in lower courts, because there has not been a national study done for 10 years, according to the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. But the center did indicate that Maryland, with one woman on the Court of Appeals, is about average in terms of the number serving at the highest level of state courts. -30-