The courtroom was standing room only. Key players from Harford County and the Maryland legal world gathered at the Harford County Circuit Courthouse late Friday afternoon to celebrate the investiture of Yolanda L. Curtin.
Curtin replaced Harford Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., who retired in February after turning 70, the mandatory retirement age for Maryland judges.
Curtin's investiture sets many firsts in Harford County.
A native of Cuba, Curtin became the first Latino judge to sit on the Harford County Circuit Court. Her investiture also tipped the scale in favor of women for the first time in the county's circuit court's history, making the bench a 3-2 female majority.
"Today is the day I finally get to return home," Curtin said, fighting back tears during her remarks. She previously worked as an assistant state's attorney in Harford County.
Before assuming her role as Harford County Circuit Court judge, Curtin, 46, of Jarrettsville, spent the last nine years working as an administrative law judge for the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings. She spent 10 years as an assistant state's attorney and teaches legal writing at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
Harford County Circuit Court Judge Angela M. Eaves, the first African American and the first woman appointed to that bench, welcomed Curtin as the third female judge to grace the circuit court in the county.
"It's not your gender or culture that brought you here," Eaves said during the ceremony. "You are here for your nobility, patience, temperance and tolerance. I welcome a friend, colleague and a sister judge."
Diane A. Tobin, president of the Harford County Bar Association and a deputy state's attorney for Harford County, said Curtin has been active in the organization for many years, and is serving as secretary.
"She could always be counted on in executive council meetings as the voice of reason," Tobin said. "She says 'OK, this is what we need to do' and everyone would agree."
Deputy State's Attorney Diana Brooks said while she initially thought Curtin was very quiet, as she watched her handle cases as an assistant state's attorney she realized Curtin "was not a shrieking violet."
"She would come in early, leave late and managed to have two babies not too far apart," Brooks said of Curtin's tenure with the state's attorney's office.
Although she considers herself "private by nature," Curtin revealed to the attendees her story of finding "the value of freedom and endless opportunity," after she came to the United States as a young girl.
Curtin said her parents moved her and her older sister to America following the Communist takeover after the Cuban Revolution. She was a year old when her family fled to Spain for six months and then after receiving visas immigrated to Las Vegas, where her father found work at the casinos.
"My parents did not want us to grow up in a repressive country, especially for women," Curtin said.
Two years after coming to the United States, Curtin said her father became ill and died, leaving her widow mother, Lesvia Lauranzon, who did not speak English, to raise two young children.
Curtin said her family migrated to New Jersey and, after some time, her mother remarried. She said no job was too good for her stepfather and he worked long hours to provide for her and her sister.
"They provided us with food, clothing and above all a Catholic education," Curtin said.
Curtin went on to receive her law degree from Rutgers University and master's in law from Georgetown University.
Curtin's mother helped to robe her following the administration of oath by James Reilly, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Harford County.
"I am truly grateful as I look out and see so many familiar faces," Curtin said during her remarks following the ceremony. She especially thanked her husband and two sons, who were in the audience.
Judge Plitt gave his final remarks from the bench as he ushered Curtin in as his replacement.
"I get to speak at my own judicial funeral," he joked.
Plitt recalled watching Curtin arguing her first case before him. He said she was always well-prepared and knew her cases inside and out.
Curtin was known as a favorite on the drug task force, Plitt said. "Everyone knew her as the drug warrant lady," he said.
As of July 1, circuit court judges make $144,908 annually.
While Curtin was sworn in Friday, she will face election to the Harford County Circuit Court bench in the 2014 Maryland primary and general elections.
Circuit court judges are required to stand for election to a 15-year term in the first county election after their appointment. At the end of the first 15-year term, judges must stand for election again.
David E. Carey, a Bel Air Town Commissioner and former town mayor, was also at the ceremony. Carey will be sworn in Friday, Nov. 22, at 4 p.m. in the Harford County Council Chambers as a Harford County District Court Judge.