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Angry Citizen Reaction Dooms Judicial Nominee

February 17, 1993

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Former state Delegate John Arnick’s confirmation to a judgeship appeared to be a routine matter - until lawmakers were flooded with calls from constituents angry over sexist remarks he allegedly made.

Arnick had been a leader in the Maryland House of Delegates for 22 years when he gave up his seat last month to accept appointment to the district court bench for Baltimore County. His confirmation by the Senate was considered a foregone conclusion.

But a confirmation vote scheduled for Tuesday was indefinitely postponed at Arnick’s request, and Senate leaders now say it’s all but certain he won’t get the job.

″I anticipate that unless a miracle happens - like if all of this never took place - that Judge Arnick will withdraw,″ said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Arnick’s confirmation was thrown into jeopardy Feb. 8 when lobbyist Judy Wolfer testified that he made sexist remarks during a dinner meeting with her and another lobbyist, Nancy Nowak. Arnick was serving as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the women were lobbying for legislation to protect battered women.

Wolfer told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee that Arnick angrily described all women as ″lying bitches.″ She also accused Arnick of using an obscenity to describe women who claim they were victims of spousal abuse.

Feminists and advocates for battered women claim the comments show Arnick is biased against women and lacks the proper judicial temperament. They also argued that victims of domestic violence wouldn’t receive fair treatment from him.

Arnick told lawmakers he didn’t remember details of the conversation but conceded it could have taken place. He apologized for any ″discomfort″ he might have caused. He also said he has supported every major piece of women’s rights legislation approved by the Legislature over the past two decades.

Most lawmakers initially took Arnick’s side, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer refused to withdraw the nomination, saying concerns that Arnick wouldn’t be fair to domestic violence victims were ″silly.″

Even the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus refused to withdraw its earlier endorsement of him.

One member of the caucus, Delegate Leslie Hutchinson, described Wolfer as ″a chick″ who was hoping to use the publicity surrounding the Arnick matter to promote her private law practice. Hutchinson later apologized for the remark.

Last Friday, after a four-hour hearing in which 40 of Arnick’s friends and former colleagues testified in his behalf, the committee voted 14-4 in favor of confirmation.

But then came the weekend and a campaign by women’s rights groups to block the nomination. Calls flooded into the State House and senators encountered angry voters in their home districts.

The Legislature’s switchboard reported some 2,500 calls were made to senators’ office on Monday alone, compared with the usual 1,000.

″I was bombarded by calls,″ said Sen. John Derr, who had voted for Arnick on Friday. By Monday afternoon, he had changed his mind.

″I made a mistake. I’ve been told - and I think there is some validity to it - that a vote for confirmation is political suicide,″ he said.

The governor also noted the public influence on his nominee’s prospects.

″I know the public pressure is great. People who have known John Arnick for years now say, ‘I can’t help you,’ ″ Schaefer said Tuesday.

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