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Names of six finalists for new Harford Circuit Court judgeship sent to governor

Harford County's Judicial Nominating Commission has sent the names of six finalists to Gov. Larry Hogan for the county's new sixth Circuit Court judgeship.
Harford County's Judicial Nominating Commission has sent the names of six finalists to Gov. Larry Hogan for the county's new sixth Circuit Court judgeship. (MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harford County's Judicial Nominating Commission has sent the names of six people to Gov. Larry Hogan to be considered for appointment to the county's new sixth Circuit Court judgeship.

All six have been applicants or finalists for prior vacancies on the Harford bench.

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The nominees are David E. Carey, a District Court judge; Diane Adkins Tobin, a Harford County deputy state's attorney; Martin E. Wolf, a Towson-based attorney, who resides in Forest Hill; Paul W. Ishak, a Bel Air-based attorney, who also is attorney for the City of Havre de Grace; Kerwin Anthony Miller, a former Cecil County deputy state's attorney; and Bel Air-based attorney Anthony J. DiPaula.

The nominees were selected when the 13-member Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission met Sept. 30, according to a letter of transmittal from the Maryland Judiciary Office to Hogan that was dated Tuesday.

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Joseph Cassilly, who has been Harford County's state's attorney for about 34 years and a prosecutor for 39 years, will retire Jan. 1, 2017.

Carey, DiPaula, Ishak, Tobin and Wolf were among the 15 people who applied in 2015 to succeed retired Judge Stephen Waldron. Carey, Tobin and Wolf were finalists selected by the nominating commission, along with Bel Air attorney Kevin J. Mahoney, whom Hogan appointed last December. Mahoney, who began sitting in January, is unopposed for election to a full term on the November ballot.

Under rules established by the courts and the governor, any finalist for a judgeship, who isn't selected, is automatically considered for the next vacancy, if it occurs within two years of the preceding appointment. As a result, Carey, Tobin and Wolf were guaranteed to be considered for the new judgeship, unless they withdrew.

Miller was a finalist for the Circuit Court vacancies in 2011 and 2013 that occurred under then-Gov. Martin O'Malley, who selected M. Elizabeth Bowen and Yolanda Curtin, respectively. This is Tobin's fifth time being a finalist for a Harford circuit or district court judgeship.

DiPaula, Ishak and Miller are nominees the commission "found to be legally and most fully qualified for appointment to the Circuit Court for Harford County," according to the letter sent to Hogan, which likewise noted Carey, Tobin and Wolf, as prior nominees, are considered "legally and fully qualified" for appointment.

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Nine lawyers have applied for a new Harford Circuit Court judgeship, joining three candidates from the last judicial nominating process, as the move to fill the post goes forward without any imminent improvements in court facilities to accommodate a sixth judge. The Harford County Judicial Nominating Commission announced the applicants Tuesday.

"Governor Hogan will make his decision sometime in the near future," Hogan spokesperson Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill said Tuesday afternoon. "The governor must chose from the names submitted or previously submitted nominations."

"For me to be selected as one of those three, I am, frankly, almost speechless," DiPaula said.

DiPaula, who has been practicing law since 1985, said he has wanted to be on the bench since his days as a law clerk for a Baltimore County judge.

"This is the way I would love to end my career," he said. "I think I can bring a lot of experience to the bench."

Under an executive order from the 1970s that established the judicial nominating process, the governor – who appoints the commission members for each county – must either pick from among a commission's nominees, or request that the panel start the process and submit a new group of nominees.

The person selected by Hogan will be required to stand for election to a full 15-year term on the bench during the 2018 election cycle. Sitting circuit judges can be challenged by eligible members of the bar who reside in the judge's county and are at least 30 years old and a Maryland resident for five years.

Legislation allowing a sixth judge to be named to the Harford County Circuit Court was approved during the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session, but it remains to be seen when exactly that judge would be seated on the bench, as a state nominating commission must select an applicant and forward his or her name for the governor's approval.

Hogan could have another opportunity to fill a seat on the Harford Circuit bench within the next two years. Judge William O. Carr, the senior judge on the Harford Circuit bench, will reach the current mandatory retirement age of 70 in October 2018.

Courthouse space issues

When the Harford Circuit Court's newest judge will sit when he or she begins hearing cases remains an unresolved issue.

During its 2016 session last winter, the Maryland General Assembly authorized funding for a sixth circuit judge in Harford to help ease the workload of the other judges.

The legislature allocated funding to cover the judge's annual salary of $154,433, while Harford County must allocate $250,000 for the salaries of support staffers.

The circuit courthouse in downtown Bel Air, which is owned by the county government, currently does not have space for a sixth judge's courtroom, chambers and staff offices, nor is there funding in the current budget to expand or reconfigure the building.

"Quite frankly, long-term, we probably need another building," County Executive Barry Glassman recently told the county's state legislators, explaining, however, that such a project is not in the county's capital improvement program, because "we can't afford it."

Harford Administrative Judge Angela M. Eaves said this past spring they would "figure out a way to make it work" with the existing building, because an additional judge is sorely needed.

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