Editor: W. Patrick Tandy
MSBA Supports Sitting Judges
~Contested Court Elections Scheduled in Five Counties~
Marylanders go to the polls to participate in the state’s March 2 primary
election, they will select candidates for the President of the United States,
the U.S. Senate, Congress, and, in seven Maryland judicial circuits, circuit
court judges. In the 2004 Maryland primary election, sitting judges in five
county circuit courts face challengers and thus contested elections: Anne
Arundel County, Baltimore County, Frederick County, Harford County and St.
Mary’s County. The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) supports the sitting
judges seeking to retain their seats on Maryland’s circuit courts.
December 16, 2003, MSBA’s Board of Governors approved a resolution endorsing the
incumbent Circuit Court Judges in Maryland. These sitting judges have been found
to be qualified by a Judicial Nominating Commission and were selected by the
Governor of Maryland. These esteemed members of the bench have earned the
confidence, respect and support of the Bar and thus should run on their records
in retention elections, not in contested elections.
decades, MSBA has opposed contested judicial elections and endorsed the
retention and merit selection of sitting judges for circuit courts of Maryland.
The selection of judges must be dedicated to placing and retaining persons of
the highest quality of character, integrity, judicial temperament and learning
on Maryland’s bench. To achieve this goal, state judges need to be appointed on
the basis of merit. Maryland’s current sitting judges have been evaluated,
selected and appointed because of their judicial characteristics, quality and
Maryland, circuit court judges are the only members of the bench who must stand
for contested elections. The Governor initially appoints all judges after the
candidate has undergone an extensive screening and evaluation process by
independent judicial nominating commissions, as set forth by Executive Orders
since 1976. District court judges serve for 10 years then may be reappointed by
the Governor with Senate consent, while appellate judges run in retention
circuit court judges must run in the general election immediately following
their gubernatorial appointment and then must stand for re-election every 15
years to retain their seats. Sometimes, sitting judges face challengers in these
elections, as will be the case on March 2 in the five aforementioned counties.
In recent years, contested elections for circuit court seats in Maryland have
been on the rise and some contests have become acrimonious. In some cases, it is
suspected that sitting judges have lost their seats because they were at the
wrong end of an alphabetized listing on the ballot.
Technically, any Maryland attorney over the age of 30 who is admitted to the
Maryland Bar, has resided in the state for five years and has lived in the
specific circuit for six months can challenge a sitting judge in a contested
election. Frequently, these contenders have not been through the extensive
judicial screening process sitting judges must undergo prior to appointment. In
addition, challengers may speak freely, make election promises and offer
rhetoric that may be inflammatory or misleading. Sitting judges are bound by and
must honor the Judicial Canon of Ethics.
Opposition of Contested
Historically, MSBA has opposed the contested election of Maryland’s circuit
court judges on ethical, political, campaign, judicial independence and monetary
grounds. MSBA would like to see politics removed from Maryland’s judicial
selection process. It fears these elections inadvertently transform judges into
politicians and push them into the fray of partisan politics. This contradicts
judicial ethics, threatens the independence and impartiality of Maryland’s
Judiciary and erodes the public’s trust and confidence in our legal system.
Contested elections subject sitting judges to partisan politics and force them
to campaign and raise funds to retain their seat on the bench. Considerable
expense accompanies contested elections, as sitting judges must raise money,
advertise, make public appearances and actively campaign for votes. Campaigning
costs sitting judges time which, given heavy court dockets, is at a premium. It
is also costs money and can compromise their impartiality.
Additionally, contested elections pose ethical dilemmas for sitting judges. For
one thing, Judicial Canons prohibit sitting judges from directly soliciting
campaign funds, although their non-judicial opponents do not operate under these
restrictions. In addition, attorneys who appear before judges in their
courtrooms may contribute to the campaign, creating the appearance and casting
shadows of impropriety. Overall, contested elections present the potential for
conflicts of interest.
qualified attorneys are discouraged from seeking a judicial seat because of
contested elections, narrowing the pool of judicial candidates. The expense
associated with campaigning, the time investment and the possibility of losing
one’s seat to a contender are all major deterrents.
often, the public does not know who the sitting judges are and votes for circuit
court judges on the basis of alphabetical order and party affiliation rather
than judicial qualifications. Voting polls indicate that party labels and ballot
positions are often more significant than judicial qualifications, an
unfortunate basis on which to select circuit court judges.
Merit Selection of Judges
MSBA supports the merit selection of judges. In last year’s Maryland General
Assembly, MSBA favored legislation supporting a retention election process for
circuit court judges, who after gubernatorial appointment and Senate
confirmation would serve 10-year terms before standing for retention election to
keep their seats on the bench. MSBA believes this process will promote judicial
accountability and ensure the most qualified jurists serve on Maryland’s bench.
selection process places the most qualified judges on Maryland’s bench. Sitting
judges have successfully completed a rigorous interview, evaluation and
selection process. Their skills, judicial temperament and qualifications have
been demonstrated to the Maryland Judicial Nominating Commission. Many have also
been evaluated by local and state bar associations. Often, challengers have not
been through this process; hence, voters have less chance of assessing their
Marylanders are indeed fortunate to have judges with the highest quality of
character, integrity, judicial temperament and learning on Maryland’s Circuit
Courts. These sitting judges are well respected and of the highest caliber; they
have earned the confidence, respect and support of the public and the Bar. To
preserve Maryland’s tradition of judicial excellence, MSBA strongly supports the
sitting circuit court judges.