When Circuit Judges on the primary ballot -- usually open and shut, check the boxes and move on -- get the attention of powerful movers and shakers in state politics, what is going on? Activist LaTasha Ward offers a window on challengers to sitting judges -- and unusual pressure placed on local Prince George's officials in this usually sedate game.
/By LaTasha R. Ward/ As an active voter in Prince George’s county since 1986 I never remember having a choice on who to elect for Circuit Court Judge. There were always about four names and four positions. Until 2016, when Ingrid Turner decided to add her name to the ballot, the people of Prince George’s County seldom had a choice about Circuit Court judges. That year they voiced their collective decision when they voted to elect the first challenger appearing on the ticket, knocking out one of the Governor’s appointed candidates.
In 2020, we have more choices as we are asked to vote for five Circuit Judges. Four of the sitting judges on the 2020 ballot were appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (three of them in 2018) and are facing their first election. Hogan’s most recent appointee, installed in January 2020, was Bryon Bereano.
Unlike so many other people that have influence over others, I’m not making a blanket decision on the 5 sitting judges but I’m making decisions individually, which should happen. I personally like Judge Serrette; she holds the same values I hold dear. Her focus is on the entire family. She has served 15 years well and now she is asking to be re-elected.
In my opinion, the judges who are appointed by governors didn’t work for us -- they only worked to keep the jails full. Judge Ingrid Turner won because every elected official was in support of her -- because she served eight years on our County Council and she did good work. Every sorority and fraternity was engaged in seeing her in office. The community got involved because we had a choice.
Turner is one of 24 sitting Circuit Court judges; they serve terms of 15 years and only five of them are on the ballot in 2020.
We have a choice again. Two challengers, Gladys Weatherspoon and April Ademiluyi, are running for the seats being contested. Both are attorneys and you can look up their qualifications at those links.
But I’m concerned that influence and influence peddling is intruding into what’s supposed to be a nonpartisan Circuit Judge election. Support for the slate of sitting judges from local elected officials is being swayed.
The newest appointed judge, Bryon Bereano, is the son of Maryland’s most powerful lobbyist, Bruce Bereano. Bruce Bereano’s several recent messages to elected officials in the county comes from someone who can affect their future fundraising and the success of their legislative efforts in Annapolis. “As you may know, my son Judge Bryon Bereano recently was appointed by Governor Hogan to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County,” Bereano wrote Dec. 13. “ He filed his candidacy at the State Board of Elections this past Monday, and will be joining [four other] Prince George's County Circuit Court Judges… on the ballot.”
“Respectfully,” Bereano says, “I will be very involved in the election of these 5 sitting Prince George's County Circuit Court judges in the upcoming primary election this April 28, 2020.”
He notes that at least one of the insurgent candidates, Weatherspoon, has approached local electeds for support and he says, in all caps, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS AND PLEASE FULLY AND COMPLETELY SUPPORT FOR ELECTION IN THE UPCOMING ELECTION ALL OF THE 5 SITTING PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGES”
“This is very important to me,” Bereano continues, and asks that those local electeds he is addressing not only declare support for the five sitting judges, but report back to him what they decided to do.
Bruce Bereano writes again April 16 to re-state his case for the five sitting judges, including his son Bryon, and asks forcefully for campaign contributions to the five-judge slate. The contributions, properly made out to the campaign committee, can be mailed directly to him at his home address or, oh yeah, to the campaign treasurer. And he added, “Please respond one way or the other.” He is keeping score.
Bruce Bereano also takes the opportunity to slam the “2 candidate challengers to the sitting judges who simply went down to the board of elections and paid $50 to appear on the ballot; thus avoiding the rigorous vetting process that all 5 sitting judges have had to endure.”
That means the judges get judged by other judges, and by lawyers in various bar associations. Weatherspoon told the Washington Informer “Whoever wants to be judge, you literally join all these bar associations and visit with all the bar associations,” she said. “They go and say to the governor, ‘this [person] is going to be a good judge.’ This vetting thing really becomes a popularity contest.” ‘
It all sounds pretty cozy.
The messages that were sent by Bruce Bereano to each delegate, senator and county officials was that they must put their political support behind the 5 seating judges. . . and he was watching them closely.
Prince George’s County wake up! The only reason why we are seeing them now is because they have two challengers, Ademiluyi and Weatherspoon, two African American women who are qualified. All you have to do is research them. You can make an intelligent decision based on their records. Not based on a politician who is telling you to do what Bruce Bereano says to do.
If the sitting judges have to pay or twist people’s arms to vote for them you have to be suspicious as to why. This is really something we see in movies depicting mobsters running elections.
Why do we have elected officials if a rich lobbyist is making the decisions? We may as well just not elect anybody and just go get our orders from Bruce Bereano.
Prince George’s county, we need to run community candidates against the candidates that are not for the people and we have several in Prince George’s county that need to go. Since we have a choice, we need to look at what those choices are and make a decision based on each individual candidate.
LaTasha Ward is a mother, an activist, a businesswoman, a community leader and a former elected official and candidate for office in Prince George’s County.