Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judges Laura S. Ripken (left) and Cathleen M. Vitale (right) have applied to fill a vacancy on the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judges Laura S. Ripken (left) and Cathleen M. Vitale (right) have applied to fill a vacancy on the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. (File Photo(s))

Two Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judges — including the judge presiding over the Capital Gazette shooting trial — have applied to fill a vacancy on Maryland’s highest court.

Circuit Court Judges Laura Ripken and Cathleen Vitale are among a pool of 10 applicants for the vacancy in the Maryland Court of Appeals Fifth Appellate Judicial Circuit created by the retirement of Judge Clayton Greene Jr. The circuit includes Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

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The pool includes six attorneys, a judge from St. Mary’s County and a judge from Maryland’s lower appeals court. Ripken declined to comment through a spokeswoman. Vitale could not be reached for comment.

The administrative judge for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Ripken is presiding over the trial of the man charged with murdering Capital Gazette employees Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Jarrod Ramos, 39, of Laurel, faces five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, six counts of first-degree assault, among a host of other charges related to the deadly attack on June 28, 2018. The trial is slated to begin Nov. 4.

The deadline for applying to fill Greene’s post was Monday.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is slated to meet Oct. 29 — days before the trial for the alleged Capital Gazette shooter is scheduled to begin — to interview each of the applicants and nominate those it deems to be “legally and most fully professionally qualified” to Gov. Larry Hogan, according to the Maryland Judiciary.

Once Hogan receives nominations his office initiates a vetting process for each nominee, including an interview with the governor, Shareese Churchill, his spokeswoman, wrote in an email to The Capital. “Appointments are typically made in a timely manner.”

Former Anne Arundel County judicial candidate Rickey Nelson Jones with former Rep. Donna Edwards in 2016.
Former Anne Arundel County judicial candidate Rickey Nelson Jones with former Rep. Donna Edwards in 2016. (File photo)

After Hogan, a Republican, appoints the nominee of his choice, they must be confirmed by the state Senate. The Maryland General Assembly returns to Annapolis in January.

Churchill wrote in an email that Hogan can swear-in his appointment when he chooses, though the Senate could still overturn the appointment next time they meet. The judge would go before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee.

After being confirmed, the judge stands for retention vote for a 10-year term at the first general election after the appointment.

Vitale assumed her post on the Anne Arundel County bench in February of 2015, having worked as a private attorney and served as a Maryland delegate and a county councilwoman. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed Vitale to the bench.

Ripken spent almost two decades as a prosecutor with the county State’s Attorney’s Office before O’Malley appointed her to the bench. She was serving as deputy state’s attorney to the late top prosecutor Frank Weathersbee from 2006 to 2010, when O’Malley appointed her. She oversees National Adoption Day at the courthouse on Church Circle in Annapolis.

Among Ripken and Vitale’s competition, is the Rev. Rickey Nelson Jones, a longtime attorney who ran in 2018 as a candidate for the county Circuit Court.

Judge Michael John Stamm, the administrative judge for the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court, and Judge Timothy Elmer Meredith, who represents the 5th Appellate Judicial Circuit on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The state’s second-highest court handles appeals from the state’s circuit courts. Three judge panels hear arguments about decisions made in lower courts, not about facts of the case.

Jonathan Biran, Russell Paul Butler, Michael Patrick Redmond, George Somerville Tolley III and Tara Sky Woodward — all attorneys — round out the pool seeking nomination to Maryland’s highest court.

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The appeals court chooses which cases to hear and decides them with the votes of all seven judges, according to the judiciary. The written opinions of the top court serve as a precedent for other cases, with attorneys regularly citing its decisions in legal arguments.

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