Diane Adkins-Tobin did what no one has been able to do since 1954 — unseat a sitting judge.
Not only did the deputy state’s attorney for Harford County defeat one of the two incumbent Harford County Circuit Court judges, she received more votes than either of them.
Adkins-Tobin, who got on the general election ballot by winning the Democratic primary, received 49,100 votes (32.2 percent) combined on Election Day Tuesday and early voting to earn a seat on the Harford Circuit Court bench. She will join incumbent Judge Paul Ishak, who was appointed in December 2016 and elected Tuesday to a full 15-year term with 45,397 votes, 29.8 percent.
“I’m still in shock,” Adkins-Tobin said late Tuesday night at Magerk’s, where she had gathered with friends and family to await the results. “But I’m elated. I’m incredibly happy. I just can’t believe it’s actually going to happen.”
Adkins-Tobin defeated incumbent Judge Lawrence Kreis, who was appointed to the bench in September 2017 to replace the retiring Judge William O. Carr. Running for a 15-year term, he finished third with 34,921 votes, 22 percent. Finishing fourth was Public Defender Thomas Ashwell, who received 22,398 votes, 14.7 percent.
“I’m a little disappointed with the results,” Kreis said late Tuesday. “But I had a great year as a judge and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I’ve got a great family, a great support system and friends.”
He said he called Adkins-Tobin and Ishak and congratulated them and wished them both the best.
Kreis and Ishak ran as a ticket, campaigning together for the last year.
“I’m delighted. I’m very, very happy to continue on, on the bench,” Ishak said as he finally headed home early Wednesday morning after meeting with other candidates and supporters and picking up signs throughout the county. “I feel very relieved. To have the stamp of approval from Harford County voters was what I was hoping to achieve from the beginning.”
He wasn’t terribly surprised by Tuesday’s results, which pretty much matched the primary results.
“We never knew what the fourth person coming into the campaign was going to do, who he was going to take votes from,” Ishak said. “As it turned out, he took them from myself and Larry.”
Kreis wouldn’t speculate on why the results turned out as they did.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a lawyer and a judge,” he said. “I’m not sure why the results are what they are, but the people voted and that what’s the results ended up being.”
His next chapter has yet to be determined.
“I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years, a judge for a year, I’m sure it will be something good,” Kreis said. “I’m going to explore all my options and I’m looking forward to moving on.”
Adkins-Tobin was still trying to comprehend her victory later Tuesday.
“For all the years I wanted to be a judge, all the times I tried and to be turned down for appointment. Every single time was disappointing,” she said. “I’m still trying to grasp the reality that I’m going to be a judge, that it will happen.”
She attributes her victory to “good, old-fashioned hard work.” She started her campaign in January and attended every civic meeting, every festival, every chicken dinner, met people, talked to people and they got to know her, she said.
She’s been involved in Harford County for 27 years, in Scouts, recreation councils, PTAs, not to mention the years she has spent as a prosecutor with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“You can’t count out the fact that I am well-known in this community and I worked very hard,” Adkins-Tobin said.
She had a revelation about halfway through her campaign — that this was her time.
“Everything in my life had led to this,” she said.
It didn’t matter that she’s been passed over by governors during previous appointments. Or that when she was little, she was told girls can’t be lawyers. Or that when she was a lawyer, she was told she couldn’t enter a room full of men because it was only for lawyers and they thought she was a paralegal. Or that she couldn’t try cases.
“I just think this is the way it was meant to be. To defeat three men, two sitting judges and to be a woman who did it,” Adkins-Tobin said. “I never gave up, I never let anything get in the way of my dream, since I was a little girl.”
Part of Ishak’s theme throughout the campaign has been “we the people,” he said.
“I live that every day in court, so I’m delighted the people of Harford County told me to stay on the bench,” he said.
He has volunteered on various campaigns before, he said, but until this race had never run himself.
“Having helped on campaigns over the years, it’s nice to see folks win, but when it’s you, it really is an amazing feeling to have people say yes, you get to stay on,” Ishak said. “I don’t know how anyone would ever forget they were elected by the people.”