WASHINGTON – Baltimore lawyer Richard D. Bennett sailed through light questioning Thursday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to a federal district court judgeship in Maryland.
Both of Maryland’s Democratic senators — Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski — spoke in support of Bennett, a former leader of the state’s Republicans and two-time GOP nominee for state office.
“I certainly respect him personally and professionally,” Sarbanes said. “I am convinced he will make a very fair and honorable district judge.”
Mikulski echoed those remarks.
“This man is tough, fair, balanced, and I think he’ll be a terrific judge,” she said.
The committee could vote on Bennett’s nomination as early as next Thursday, said a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who chaired the hearing.
In late January, President Bush nominated Bennett, 55, for the seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge Frederic N. Smalkin earlier that month.
Bennett is an attorney at Miles & Stockbridge, where he specializes in white-collar crime, grand jury practice and internal investigations. From 1976 to 1980, he was an assistant federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland and, from 1991-1993, was himself the U.S. Attorney for Maryland.
He ran for attorney general in 1994 and for lieutenant governor in 1998, both times unsuccessfully. Bennett became chair of the state GOP in 1998, but served only half a term before stepping down in 2000 because of professional time constraints.
Despite Bennett’s ties to the Maryland GOP, many Democrats welcomed his nomination.
“Compared to other Bush appointees, Dick Bennett is a jewel,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. “I think he is a lawyer of great integrity.”
Another self-identified Democrat, Maryland State Bar Association President James Nolan, called Bennett “an absolutely fantastic choice.”
“I don’t think that there could have been a person nominated for this position,” said Nolan.
Bennett has also served on the board of his high school alma mater, the Severn School in Severna Park. Headmaster William Creeden said Bennett “is a good person, a man of his word and of high character.” During Bennett’s nine years on the school’s board, Bennett “was well known and respected,” Creeden said.
Earlier this month the Senate confirmed another Bush nominee, William D. Quarles, for the only other opening on the district court. Quarles had been a judge on the Baltimore Circuit Court before being elevated to the federal bench.
Bennett received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969 and his law degree from the University of Maryland in 1973.