WASHINGTON – Legal professionals praised the nomination of Richard Bennett to a U.S. District Court judgeship in Maryland this week, saying the Baltimore lawyer “should make an excellent judge.”
President Bush on Wednesday nominated Bennett, 55, to fill the gap left when Judge Frederic N. Smalkin stepped down in early January. The appointment must be approved by the Senate, but his confirmation is expected to come quickly.
Bennett, a former U.S. attorney for Maryland who is currently in private practice with Miles & Stockbridge, is a leading state Republican. He was the party’s nominee for attorney general in 1994 and lieutenant governor in 1998, and he chaired the party from 1998 to 2000.
But Democrats said Bennett will make a non-ideological judge, and a spokesman for Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said the senator will likely support the appointment.
“Although he’s a very good Republican and I’m a very good Democrat, we’ve always gotten along extremely well,” said Stephen Sachs, a former Maryland attorney general.
He said he thinks Bennett will decide cases promptly as a judge. “Dick Bennett is not a dawdler,” Sachs said.
Jervis Finney, who as a former U.S. attorney in Maryland brought Bennett into the office, noted Bennett’s trial skills.
“He’s a very, very highly qualified trial lawyer in civil and criminal cases, who should make an excellent judge,” said Finney, who is now counsel to Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Bennett also serves on the board of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which works to improve the lives of disabled children. Institute Vice President Lainy LeBow-Sachs called him a “perfect” choice for the judgeship.
“He has so much integrity,” said LeBow-Sachs, who is unrelated to Stephen Sachs. “He’s a very dedicated human being.”
The District Court currently has one other vacancy, open since June. Bush nominated Baltimore City Circuit Judge William Quarles for the seat in September 2002, and renominated him in January after his confirmation stalled in the last Congress.
“The president hopes that he (Bennett) will be considered quickly,” said Taylor Griffin, a White House spokesman. Bennett is “very well qualified to be a federal district judge.”
Bennett received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969 and a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1973.
He was an assistant federal prosecutor in Maryland from 1976 to 1980 and was the U.S. Attorney for Maryland from 1991-1993.
In his current practice, he specializes in white-collar crime, grand jury practice and internal investigations.
Bennett said Thursday that he was honored by the nomination and flattered by the apparent support for his selection, but he otherwise declined comment.
Others were happy to comment. Pamela White, the immediate past president of the Maryland State Bar Association, lauded Bennett’s work in public service and his professionalism, calling him a “great example” of “unflinching” commitment.
Sachs also praised Bennett’s sense of humor. “He takes the law seriously, he takes the job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.” -30- CNS 01