Two Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judges, including the administrative judge who is presiding over the Capital Gazette shooting trial, have applied to fill a vacancy on Maryland’s second-highest court.
Judges Laura Ripken, Anne Arundel’s ranking jurist, and Cathleen Vitale are part of a pool of 10 candidates seeking an appointment to the Court of Special Appeals, marking the second time in just over a year they’ve sought a higher post.
The vacancy on the court’s 5th Appellate Judicial Circuit, which covers Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, resulted from the retirement of Judge Timothy Elmer Meredith.
Made up of 15 judges, the Court of Special Appeals 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.
Among the other candidates are Claudia Barber and Rickey Nelson Jones, both of whom have run unsuccessful election campaigns for Circuit Court judge.
Barber was an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia, where she has a pending federal lawsuit against the city concerning her firing.
Jones has a law practice in Baltimore and is a pastor at a church in Columbia.
Attorney Tara Sky Woodward, a Washington-based business litigation lawyer, will automatically be considered for the position because she was nominated by the Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission to fill a void on the same court within the past two years, according to the Maryland Judiciary. Gov. Larry Hogan chose to appoint another person when Woodward’s name was last sent to his desk.
Ripken and Vitale applied in September of 2019 for a spot on the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, though the commission nominated neither trial judge. Hogan appointed a Baltimore-based lawyer and former federal prosecutor, Jonathan Biran, to the post.
Maryland voters kept Biran on the top court for 10 years in the November general election.
Ripken has been presiding over the case against the man who fatally shot five Capital Gazette employees on June 28, 2018. The gunman pleaded guilty to the murders but maintains he was insane. The sanity proceeding has been delayed repeatedly and, as of Monday morning, has not yet been rescheduled, though attorneys in the case are slated to appear in front of Ripken Tuesday to lock down a new date.
She has been a judge on the Circuit Court since 2010 when then-Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed her to fill the post. She was a county prosecutor for almost two decades before her appointment, working her way up to the position of deputy state’s attorney under the late State’s Attorney Frank Weathersbee.
Before being appointed to the bench by O’Malley in 2015, Vitale was a private attorney, a state delegate and a county councilwoman.
Rounding out the pool are a host of attorneys: Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Mark McCoy, legal counsel for the General Assembly; Joseph Edward Carey, William Edward Nolan, Michael Patrick Redmond and Edward Hutchinson Robbins Jr.
The nominating commission is slated to meet Dec. 21. At that meeting, the candidates will be interviewed virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the judiciary. The commission will nominate those it deems to be “legally and most fully professionally qualified” to Hogan.
The governor’s office conducts its own vetting process, including a meeting with Hogan, after receiving the nomination. After Hogan makes an appointment, his choice must be confirmed by the state Senate.
If the Senate confirms the governor’s appointment, the judge will have to stand for a retention vote for a 10-year term at the first general election after the appointment. Judges on the special appeals court earn $178,633 annually, according to the judiciary.