Bel Air attorney Paul W. Ishak has been practicing law in Harford County for 28 years, arguing in front of the judges who will soon be his colleagues on the Harford County Circuit Court bench.
Ishak, 53, a Havre de Grace resident, has been named Harford County's sixth, and newest, Circuit Court judge. His appointment was announced Wednesday morning by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Ishak said it is "wonderful to be welcomed to the bench by some of the very judges I've appeared in front of in my career."
Ishak, who was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1988, is a partner in the prominent Harford County law firm, Stark & Keenan, P.A., with offices in Bel Air and Havre de Grace. He joined Stark & Keenan in 1989.
He currently serves as the city attorney for the City of Havre de Grace and is active in the community, where he is a member and former fire line officer of the Susquehanna Hose Company and a parishioner at St. Patrick Church.
He spoke with The Aegis Wednesday afternoon in the law library at his firm's office in downtown Bel Air, a stone's throw from the historic Harford County Courthouse. Ishak will be hearing cases in the Main Street courthouse after he is sworn in early next year.
Ishak learned of the appointment Tuesday when he received a call from Hogan. He said they had "a very good conversation."
"I just look forward to serving the public here in Harford County in this, I guess you would call It, a new chapter in my legal service to the community," he said.
Ishak will be filling a judgeship created by the Maryland General Assembly during its 2016 legislative session earlier this year.
He expressed his thanks to fellow attorney Tim Braue, chairman of the Harford County Judicial Nominating Commission, which sent his name and the names of five other nominees to the governor.
He also expressed his thanks to the Bar Association of Harford County – he is a former county bar association president – for its support.
Ishak said Judge Angela Eaves, administrative judge for the Harford Circuit Court, and Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, have been "very kind and welcoming," as he starts the transition from practicing attorney to judge.
"Their encouragement for this transition that is going to happen has just been overwhelming to me," he said.
He will no longer be able to serve as city attorney for the City of Havre de Grace, where he grew up. He was city attorney from 1997 to 2001 and returned to the position in 2007, according to his biography on the law firm's website.
He also has to distribute 27 years worth of files from his private practice. He expects clients will either be served by other attorneys at Stark & Keenan or go to other lawyers outside the firm.
"It's probably an old adage that every attorney at some point thinks of being a judge," he said.
Ishak is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park and received his juris doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law. He is a graduate of The John Carroll School in Bel Air and received the school's Charles K. Riepe Alumni Award in 1998.
Ishak was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1988 and previously clerked for Harford Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron, who retired last year. He is a former president of the Bar Association of Harford County.
Ishak previously applied to join the Circuit Court bench in 2015, as the governor had to select a judge to succeed Waldron. Hogan ultimately chose Bel Air attorney Kevin J. Mahoney for that post. Mahoney was elected to a 15-year term in November; he did not have opposition.
The sixth Circuit judge position was created to help ease the workload for the five sitting judges, which also means people seeking legal redress can get their cases heard in a timely manner. The local bar and the judges had been pushing for it for several years.
"Being able to bring a broad base of experience to the bench and continue in public service was one of the reasons why I applied," Ishak said, adding that he knows the staff at the courthouse, in addition to other members of the local bar.
"Being familiar with everyone is helpful," he said.
Ishak's wife, April, to whom he has been married since 1989, also is an attorney with Stark & Keenan. Hogan named April Ishak to the state's Open Meetings Compliance Board last summer.
Ishak and his wife have four children. He said "the jury's out" if any of them may enter the legal profession.
Ishak grew up in a family of health care professionals – his late father was a surgeon, his mother was a nurse and his two brothers are doctors.
Ishak said he did well in courses related to the law and his father advised him that "if you can have a career in something that you excel in, that's a ticket to success."
"I took [his advice] and followed that path, and he was right," he said.