Havre de Grace's mayor and city council welcomed a new city attorney this week and bid farewell to the old one, while keeping everything in the family, so to speak.
During Tuesday night's city council meeting, April Caso Ishak was appointed city attorney to succeed her husband, Paul, who was appointed last month to a judgeship on the Harford County Circuit Court. The new judge was sworn in during a private ceremony Wednesday.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce our next city attorney, April Ishak," Mayor Bill Martin said, in making public his decision on Paul Ishak's replacement.
A resident of Havre de Grace and an associate with the Harford County firm Stark & Keenan P.A., she was sworn in by Martin, right after the mayor and council members honored her husband, who was also present, for his years of service to the city.
She said her husband's "shoes are going to be very big to fill," but "he has provided a great role model for this position."
"I truly do love Havre de Grace," she said. "It's my adopted home, and I look forward to serving to the best of my ability."
April Ishak is a member of the bar in Delaware and Maryland. She worked for the Wilmington, Del., firm of Prickett, Jones & Elliott P.A. during the 1990s and 2000s before coming to work for Stark & Keenan, which has offices in Bel Air and Havre de Grace. Her husband was a partner in the firm.
She earned her bachelor's degree from Douglass Residential College of Rutgers University in New Jersey and obtained her law degree from Rutgers Law School. She has also studied at the Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University, according to her bio on her law firm's website.
Gov. Larry Hogan named her to the state's Open Meetings Compliance Board during the summer of 2015. She is one of three attorneys who serves on the board.
Ishak is a parishioner at the Church of St. Patrick in Havre de Grace and is a local youth soccer coach.
She took part in her first council meeting as city attorney Tuesday, observing the proceedings and making notes.
Paul Ishak was city attorney from 1997 to 2001 and from 2007 until the end of 2016. He started practicing law with Stark & Keenan since 1989, and he is the former president of the Harford County Bar Association.
He grew up in Havre de Grace and is a member of the Susquehanna Hose Company. Like his wife, he also coaches youth soccer.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Dec. 7 that Paul Ishak had been named to the Circuit Court bench. In addition to the private swearing in Wednesday, Paul Ishak's investiture ceremony, or the formal public swearing in, will be Jan. 11 in the ceremonial courtroom of the historic Harford County Courthouse in downtown Bel Air.
"I've known April as long as I've known Paul, and she's a very smart and a very accomplished attorney," Martin said after the council meeting in explaining his decision to not only stay with the same law firm, but with a member of the same family, as well.
He noted they work for the same firm, and he wants the city to stay with the same entity that has "the history and the background and the records."
Martin officially accepted Paul Ishak's resignation Tuesday and read his resignation letter into the record.
The letter thanked the mayor for allowing him to serve the city and to work with the council, department heads and staff "on behalf of the citizens of Havre de Grace."
"I have confidence that the city remains in good and honorable hands," Ishak wrote. "I wish you and the council and the City of Havre de Grace all the best in the years to come."
Martin told Paul Ishak that he would accept the resignation "with honor."
He and the council members gave the soon-to-be judge a parting gift, a wooden gavel with a metal plate inscribed with Ishak's name, new title and his swearing-in date – Wednesday.
"You're a charitable man, a good friend, compassionate and very, very level headed," Martin told him.
Council members also thanked the former city attorney for helping city leaders sort through multiple issues, including some that have been contentious or evoked strong emotions, and for helping newer council members get acclimated to their positions.
"I don't think the governor could have picked a better man," Council President Steve Gamatoria said.
Councilwoman Monica Worrell, who was elected to her first term in 2015, said Paul Ishak advised her with the phrase "how not to run into the rocks" during her orientation.
She noted that, at times when she is on the council dais speaking on an issue, she catches Ishak's eye.
"I could see your eyes, and I thought, 'I'm headed for the rocks,' but it was a calming influence and I brought it back," Worrell said.
Councilman Randy Craig lauded Paul Ishak for his commitment to his hometown and his knowledge of the city and its people and history, as well as his extensive knowledge of the legal system in Harford County and the people who work in it, including law enforcement and the courts.
"I have no doubt that the honorable Judge Ishak will hear [petitioners'] cases fairly and resolve them honestly and in accordance with the law," Craig said.
Paul Ishak said "it has been a real pleasure and a tremendous honor to be able to represent your hometown."
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"I'm going to miss you," he told the mayor and council members. "You're in good hands though. The town is in good hands from the dedicated staff and these council members who I've come to know and respect deeply; the city is in great hands."