Two judicial vacancies to be filled in Harford

Harford County has a judicial vacancy at the Circuit Court level and will soon have one at the District Court level.

Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. retired effective Feb. 1 after serving on the bench since 1999. Plitt turns 70 on Saturday, the mandatory retirement age for state judges in Maryland. In addition to Plitt's retirement, District Court Judge John Dunnigan is winding down his service in anticipation of officially retiring next month.

The Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission for Commission District 4, which covers Harford County, has begun advertising the vacancy, which is filled by gubernatorial appointment. Harford has five Circuit Court judges.

Any lawyer who is a member in good standing with the Maryland Bar and lives in Harford County can apply to the Judicial Nominating Commission for Harford, which recommends candidates to the governor. According to the Maryland Courts website, "individuals whose names were submitted to the Governor for a judicial vacancy but who were not appointed become part of a pool that will be considered automatically for each vacancy on the same court occurring within two years after submission of the initial list."

The last Circuit Court appointment in Harford was made in November 2011, when Gov. Martin O'Malley named Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen to the bench to replace the retired Judge Thomas Marshall. There were four other finalists for that position: District Court Judge Victor Kuras Butanis, Melissa Lazarich Lambert, Kerwin Anthony Miller Sr. and Diane Adkins Tobin. The list was first submitted to O'Malley in September 2011, 17 months ago.

Circuit Court judges serve 15-year terms and must stand for election following their appointment. Bowen was elected to a full term on the bench in November 2012.

Plitt, a Havre de Grace resident, served as a District Court Judge from 1993 until his appointment to the Circuit bench and was chief administrative judge of the Harford District Court from 1995-99, according to his official biography in the Maryland Manual online. A Baltimore native, Plitt was chief attorney for Harford County government for two years and also served 20 years as an assistant attorney general, working with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In addition to Plitt and Bowen, the Harford Circuit Court judges are Angela Eaves, Stephen Waldron and William Carr, who is the court's chief administrative judge.

Judge for 24 years

Dunnigan, the senior member of the Harford District Court bench, confirmed Wednesday that he will be retiring in March. Dunnigan will turn 70 on Aug. 20.

Dunnigan, who has been a District Court judge since 1989 and lives in Bel Air, said he is on vacation for a month up until his retirement date.

He also expects to sit in court on a part-time basis, twice a week starting March 5, until a replacement is appointed. There are four District Court judges sitting in Harford.

"It takes a while. It can take up to a year," Dunnigan said about the state getting a replacement, adding he would like to continue sitting somewhere in Cecil, Harford or Baltimore counties.

"After they retire somebody, we can sit anywhere in the state," he said.

Dunnigan said he will miss working "with a very dedicated group of people" and overseeing the DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) court, which he has done since 2006.

"It's a good feeling to see people ... sober and seeing them participate in the program," he said.

Dunnigan, who was an assistant state's attorney before becoming a judge, said he plans to stay in the Bel Air area and hopes to get back into golf.

"It's a bitter sweet thing, but we all have to eventually do it," he said about retirement. "We do like what we do, or we shouldn't be doing it. I will miss the everyday routines, no question about it, but I do plan to be on for two days a week."

District Court judges are also appointed by the governor, but their terms are for 10 years and they do not have to stand for election; they are, however, subject to legislative confirmation.

In addition to Dunnigan and Butanis, the other Harford District Judges are Susan Hazlett and Mimi Cooper.

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