Does it really matter who our elected judges are?

Why the Judicial Campaign in Howard County, MD Is So Important

Clarke Ahlers rightly challenges his two opponents for a judgeship…

[Correction to earlier version of blog post: Clarke Ahlers has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, not in front of the U.S. Supreme Court; everything else stands as-is, including my opinion that you cast your vote for Clarke Ahlers.]

Let’s be clear: I’m going to make a pitch for you to vote for Clarke Ahlers, who has entered the Howard County Judicial race, but in order for me to convince you, we’ll start with the basics about judges.

Circuit Court Judges Sit on the Bench for 15 Years

Circuit court judges in Maryland are elected every 15 years and must retire at age 70. Circuit court judges go through a process of being nominated to a “committee” appointed by the governor. After an interview process, names are sent to the governor for selection and appointment.

But here is where it gets interesting.

Even though the governor appoints the judge and that judge is sworn in, he or she must stand for election.

And in my humble opinion, there is a classic checks-and-balances issue on the line right now.

Elect a Judge Who Understands Your Concerns

With long 15-year terms, there’s a danger in electing a judge who allows himself or herself to become closed-off from the average citizen’s concerns.

Elections involving judgeships have been looked at by voters as a “special” kind of race for too many years, and unless voters happen to know a lot about our judicial system, or get entangled in it at some point in their lives, most voters simply don’t care. (Hence the old saying: “You don’t need a good lawyer, until you need one!”)

If voters knew better, they’d elect someone like Clarke Ahlers.

Judges have a responsibility to interpret the law and protect citizens while on the same hand understanding and being informed about issues and things that really matter to the public. Take the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Protesters were jailed left and right and suffered grave mistreatment at the hands of both the police and the public. Ultimately, these protesters were taken in front of judges and the judges gave them harsh punishments.

Here’s my point: judges must understand who they are dealing with in the courtroom, within the context of the broader social situation-and a 15-year appointment is longer than any other state appointment in Maryland (even U.S. senators are elected only every six years). In other words, long terms can mean a disconnection from the broader community.

After all, when was the last time you walked into a courthouse and felt like you had a good experience?

Too often, people feel like outsiders. Most people tell me that they felt absolutely no control over their situation-that the lawyers and the judges “rule the show,” as they say.

But a judge with a clear understanding of the average citizen’s broader issues-like Clarke Ahlers-will be better able to serve you when you walk into the courtroom.

Why You Should Vote for Clarke Ahlers

Ahlers’s many years spent defending individual peoples’ constitutional rights and running his own law office as a business gives him that community connection, and I think it is time that the Howard County courthouse is given back to the citizens.

And Clarke Ahlers is the right person for the job.

Ahlers was a police officer for 14 years, then a criminal defense lawyer for 25. Talk about experience. Ahlers has been in more Maryland courtrooms, handled more cases of notoriety and interest, seen more trials and tried more cases than all of this opponents put together.

He has even argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Just search his name on Google and confirm this for yourself.

So, when Ahlers’s opponents talk about real experience, it’s clear to me that he has them outranked.

Vote for Clarke Ahlers for Howard County Judge.