So You Want To Become A Judge?

As a litigator, I frequently get asked by my clients about how a judge is selected for appointment to the bench.  Judges come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Some have lengthy careers in public service prior to appointment to the bench, often in the Attorney General’s Office, a State’s Attorney’s Office and/or the Office of the Public Defender.  Others have lengthy careers in private practice.  Many have experience in both the public and the private sector.

Previously we discussed the differences between the Circuit Court, the District Court, and the Orphans’ Court.  Today, we’ll discuss how judges on each of Maryland’s state trial courts are appointed.

District Court of Maryland

Judges on the District Court for Maryland are appointed by the Governor and approved by the State Senate.  Judges serve a ten-year term.  At the end of their ten-year term, a judge is nominated for a “retention” election, which is simply an “up or down” vote as to whether the judge should be elected to another ten-year term.  Unlike for the Circuit Court (as we will discuss momentarily), attorneys may not run for election to the Circuit Court.

Maryland Circuit Courts

There are two paths to appointment as a Circuit Court judge.  The first path is through the Judicial Nominating Commission.  The alternative path is through direct election.

Most Circuit Court judges are seated after a rigorous vetting process.  Lengthy applications are submitted to a local Judicial Nominating Commission.  The Judicial Nominating Commission interviews the candidates, reviews their applications, and whittles the pool of applicants down to a few finalists.  The names of the finalists are submitted for consideration to the Governor.  The Governor and his staff vet the finalists and, ultimately, the Governor appoints a Circuit Court judge to fill a vacancy.  The Circuit Court judge appointed by the Governor serves on the bench until the next even-numbered year (i.e., Congressional election year) following his/her appointment.  At that time, the Circuit Court judge runs for election for a 15-year term.

In the alternative, occasionally attorneys choose to run for election for a Circuit Court judgeship.  The winner of a contested judicial election is appointed to a 15-year term.  The attorney runs to unseat an individual who has gone through the vetting process and been appointed by the Governor.  Contested judicial elections is not only a hot button national issue, but is a controversial issue among the Maryland Bar.  Every two years,  there is usually a contested judicial election in at least one of Maryland’s counties, notwithstanding the admonitions from the Maryland State Bar Association to its members that the MSBA supports sitting judges and opposes the concept of attorneys running for election.  The position of the MSBA is that sitting judges should not be forced into costly elections on which they must walk a tightrope of judicial ethics which do not constrain their opponents, and which diverts their attention away from hearing cases impartially.  This year, for example, a member of the St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney’s Office is running to unseat a sitting judge of the Circuit Court for St. Mary’s County.

Maryland Orphans’ Courts

The appointment of Orphans’ Court judges varies depending on the jurisdiction within Maryland.  In Harford and Montgomery Counties, Orphans’ Court judges are drawn from the Circuit Court bench.  Thus, Orphans’ Court judges in those jurisdictions are Circuit Court appointed or elected judges.  In the 22 other jurisdictions in Maryland, Orphans’ Court judges must run for election every four years and must reside in the jurisdiction in which they run for election for at least 12 months prior to their election.

One of the requirements of District Court judges and Circuit Court judges is that they have a law degree and be a member in good standing of the Maryland Bar (have passed the bar exam).  Shockingly, in only 3 of Maryland’s 24 Orphans’ Court are you guaranteed to appear before an Orphans’ Court judge who has a law degree and is a member of the bar.  As stated, in Harford and Montgomery Counties, Orphans’ Court judges are drawn from the Circuit Court bench, and therefore are attorneys.  In 2010, Maryland voters approved a Constitutional amendment requiring that Orphans’ Court judges in Baltimore City be members of the bar.  In 2012, Maryland voters will have the opportunity to approve Constitutional amendments requiring that Orphans’ Court judges in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County be members of the bar.  Even if the 2012 Constitutional amendments are passed, 19 of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland will still allow members of the general public to serve as an Orphans’ Court judge and pass judgment on highly complex legal issues affecting the rights of citizens, so long as the individual seeking appointment has resided in that jurisdiction for the previous 12 months.

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Jeremy Rachlin is a Senior Associate at the Bethesda, Maryland law firm of JDKatz, P.C., practicing civil, commercial, employment, and estate litigation.  Named as a “Rising Star” by Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine in 2012 and 2013, he can be reached at (301) 913-2948 or by e-mail at jeremy@jdkatz.com.  JDKatz, P.C., can also assist clients in need of estate planning, estate administration, and tax law representation, and Jeremy invites you to contact him regarding these issues, as well.

The information contained in this blog is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. No recipients of content from this site, clients or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s state.  Any information sent to Mr. Rachlin by Internet e-mail is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis. Transmission of information from this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Mr. Rachlin, nor is it intended to do so. The transmission of the blog, in part or in whole, and/or any communication with Mr. Rachlin via Internet e-mail through this site does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Mr. Rachlin and any recipients.

District Court and Circuit Court and Orphans Court, Oh My!

One of the more confusing concepts about Maryland practice for lawyers and non-lawyers alike is which court within our state court system is the proper court in which to file suit.  In addition to our appeals courts, Maryland has three different state courts where a lawsuit or complaint or other claim for relief may be filed: The District Court, the Circuit Court, and the Orphans’ Court.  Additionally, Maryland houses a federal court, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.  A future post will discuss what types of claims can be filed in federal court versus state court.  This post will give the “30,000-foot view” of the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Orphans’ Court:

District Court for Maryland

Each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) has at least one District Court.  Many jurisdictions have more than one District Court.  For example, Montgomery County has District Courts in Rockville and Silver Spring; Anne Arundel County has District Courts in Glen Burnie and Annapolis; Prince George’s County has District Courts in Hyattsville and Upper Marlboro; and, Baltimore City has three different District Court locations.  District Courts have limited jurisdiction over civil cases.  What follows are common actions for which the District Court has “exclusive jurisdiction” (i.e., this type of case must be filed in District Court):

  • Landlord-tenant actions;
  • Actions where the damages sought are less than $5,000.00 (small claims)
  • Actions for tort (injury) or breach of contract where the damages sought are less than $30,000.00 (but if the damages are more than $10,000.00, the defendant may remove the case to Circuit Court).

This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the District Court for Maryland.

District Court for Maryland, located in Silver Spring, Maryland

Circuit Court for Maryland

In addition to at least one District Court, each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) also has one Circuit Court.  A Circuit Court is described as a “trial court of general jurisdiction.”  What does this mean?  Circuit Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over a much broader scope of cases.

What follows are examples of common actions for which the Circuit Court has exclusive jurisdiction:

  • Family Law actions (divorce, custody, child support modification);
  • Petitions to appoint a guardian;
  • Litigation relating to trusts;
  • Any civil claim for which a jury trial can be requested (the District Court does not have jurisdiction to preside over a jury trial);
  • Civil disputes with more than $30,000.00 at dispute;
  • Actions relating to property rights;
  • Declaratory judgment actions (actions asking the Circuit Court to interpret a deed, contract, or similar written document, and declare an individual’s rights and obligations under that document)
  • Equitable actions (actions where some form of relief is being sought aside from monetary damages, such as an injunction or a restraining order)

This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the Circuit Court for Maryland.

Circuit Court for Worcester County, Maryland (located in Snow Hill, Maryland)

Orphans’ Court for Maryland

In addition to at least one District Court and one Circuit Court, each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) also has one Orphans’ Court.  An Orphans’ Court has extremely limited jurisdiction and primarily hears disputes arising out of the administration of a decedent’s estate.

What follows are examples of common actions filed in Orphans’ Court:

  • Action to challenge the validity of a will (a “caveat” action — which may also be filed in Circuit Court depending upon );
  • Actions to remove a Personal Representative (Executor) of an estate;
  • Actions challenging distributions to beneficiaries proposed by a Personal Representative;
  • Actions challenging the validity of Estate accountings filed and prepared by the Personal Representative;
  • Actions to appoint a guardian over a minor child (under age 18) if a minor child is to receive a distribution from an estate.

This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the Orphans’ Court for Maryland.

Orphans’ Court for Washington County, Maryland (located in Hagerstown, Maryland, in the same courthouse housing Circuit Court)

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Jeremy Rachlin is a Senior Associate at the Bethesda, Maryland law firm of JDKatz, P.C., practicing civil, commercial, employment, and estate litigation.  Named as a “Rising Star” by Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine in 2012 and 2013, he can be reached at (301) 913-2948 or by e-mail at jeremy@jdkatz.com.  JDKatz, P.C., can also assist clients in need of estate planning, estate administration, and tax law representation, and Jeremy invites you to contact him regarding these issues, as well.

The information contained in this blog is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. No recipients of content from this site, clients or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s state.  Any information sent to Mr. Rachlin by Internet e-mail is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis. Transmission of information from this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Mr. Rachlin, nor is it intended to do so. The transmission of the blog, in part or in whole, and/or any communication with Mr. Rachlin via Internet e-mail through this site does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Mr. Rachlin and any recipients.

Welcome to The Maryland Litigator!!

Hello and welcome.  I’m glad you came.

I’m Jeremy Rachlin, a Senior Associate at the law firm of JDKatz, P.C., in Bethesda, Maryland.  I practice civil and commercial litigation, employment litigation, and estate and trust litigation.  Prior to my time in practice, I spent a year “in the trenches” as a law clerk to a judge on the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland***.  If you want to know more about me, please click here for my official biography.  It’s almost as cool as a baseball card, but not quite.  And no chewing gum included.

One of the things that I enjoy most about my job is talking to folks about the law, about how the courts function, and about legal issues that are important to them.  I understand that far too often lawyers speak in our own language, sometimes referred to as “legalese,” other times referred to in more colorful terms by clients who are annoyed that they just don’t understand what we’re trying to say.  This is not only an ineffective way to communicate, but is entirely frustrating to folks who want to know more about legal issues that directly impact them.

Through this blog, I hope to speak to legal consumers, those who are just curious about the law, and those who happen to stumble upon my blog through the wonder of Google.  It is my goal to use this blog as a forum to answer questions that I often field from friends, potential clients, existing clients, and others, regarding the practice and process of law.  If you have any ideas for posts or wish to chat with me more, please feel free to e-mail me at jeremy@jdkatz.com.

So sit back, enjoy, add me to your Blogroll and your RSS feeds, subscribe to me by e-mail, and keep reading and commenting!

-Jeremy

*** If you want to know about what the Circuit Court is, how it differs from the District Court, and what kind of cases are heard in Circuit Court, you’ll just have to stay tuned for a future post!

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Jeremy Rachlin is a Senior Associate at the Bethesda, Maryland law firm of JDKatz, P.C., practicing civil, commercial, employment, and estate litigation.  Named as a “Rising Star” by Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine in 2012 and 2013, he can be reached at (301) 913-2948 or by e-mail at jeremy@jdkatz.com.  JDKatz, P.C., can also assist clients in need of estate planning, estate administration, and tax law representation, and Jeremy invites you to contact him regarding these issues, as well.

The information contained in this blog is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. No recipients of content from this site, clients or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s state.  Any information sent to Mr. Rachlin by Internet e-mail is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis. Transmission of information from this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Mr. Rachlin, nor is it intended to do so. The transmission of the blog, in part or in whole, and/or any communication with Mr. Rachlin via Internet e-mail through this site does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Mr. Rachlin and any recipients.