Four names have been forwarded to the governor to be considered for the Harford County District Court judge vacancy.
The finalists are Kerwin Anthony Miller Sr., Carl Ridgeley Schlaich, Christopher Robb vanRoden and Donald Foster Walter Jr.
The person chosen by Gov. Larry Hogan will replace Judge Victor Butanis, who retired Jan. 31 after 21 years on the District Court bench.
“The common thread of all four is they have really, really excellent judicial demeanor,” Tim Braue, chairman of the Harford Judicial Nominating Commission, said. “They’re calm and they have patience, that’s really important in District Court.”
The 12-member Judicial Nominating Commission met July 26 to interview the 13 applicants and from them selected four for recommendation to Hogan, who makes the final appointment subject to confirmation by the Maryland Senate.
The other applicants were Jeffrey Nelson Burger, Angela Chong Diehl, Alison Marie Healey, James Edward Hock Jr., John Mark Magee, Trenna Laurel Manners, Gavin Malachi Patashnick, David Wesley Ryden and Dennis John Shaffer.
Miller, an administrative law judge in Maryland, and Schlaich, a longtime Bel Air lawyer in private practice, were among the finalists to be considered for the last Harford County Circuit Court judge appointment, when Judge Lawrence Kreis was appointed to fill the newly created sixth judge’s seat.
Walter works for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and vanRoden is a longtime private practice lawyer in Bel Air, Braue said.
Braue called the District Court “the people’s court,” where the vast majority of Harford residents who need to be in front of a judge will go.
“Having that positive attitude and calm demeanor and being patient is really important,” he said.
In District Court, 75 to 80 percent of the cases are criminal, and judges need to be able to make decisions, he said.
“They’re matters that are relatively small in terms of their complexity, but they’re very important to the litigants in front of them, depending on what it is,” Braue said.
For someone charged with assault, it could mean they lose their job, or a driving under the influence charge could mean loss of driving privileges.
“All of them are really important to the individual,” Braue said. “It was important to hear that from the candidates, that they recognize although the district court matters they will be hearing are relatively minor, it has a major impact on the people in front of them. And they have to handle each case as if it’s the most important thing in the world, because to the litigants, a lot of times it is.”
“Typically when we interview candidates, most of the people [on the commission] know the majority of them — 90 percent know or have had a case with,” Braue said. “This time, quite a few people were relatively unknown. It was a good process to meet with them, interview them, vet their backgrounds and talk to their references, to get a good sense of who they are.”
He said some of the candidates who applied and were not recommended for appointment were “really, really impressive,” and could be good candidates in the future, “perhaps with a little bit more experience, a little bit more interaction with the community.”
While all the applicants live in Harford, some have never practiced law in the county, Braue said.
“Having more interaction with the legal community and the community in general — if you’re living in Harford County and working in Baltimore County, and no activities in Harford County and don’t contribute, it makes it a lot more difficult to be selected,” Braue said. “Community service is an important element for anyone who wants to serve on the bench.”