It has been about 23 years since anyone outside the Baltimore legal community joined Maryland's federal bench. But a new presence will be established in coming weeks as judges with roots in suburban Washington are sworn in.
The U.S. Senate confirmed late Monday the nominations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Chasanow of Prince George's County and Montgomery County Circuit Judge Peter J. Messitte.
Hearings have not yet been scheduled for Prince George's County State's Attorney Alexander Williams Jr., the third nominee for the three vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
The new judges will likely sit at the new Southern Division courthouse, set to open next fall in Greenbelt, Prince George's County.
"It's really very significant having a courthouse in this part of the state and having judges from here," Judge Messitte said. "As with any public institution, it's very important that [the court] be representative of the state and the people. There's a symbolic significance.
"To be among the first in the new division is certainly very gratifying," he said.
The last federal judge appointed from outside Baltimore was Judge James R. Miller Jr., a Rockville attorney and state delegate from Montgomery County, who joined the bench in November 1970.
Judge Messitte, 52, has served on the Montgomery County Circuit Court since 1985. Before that, he handled civil cases in his own law firm for 14 years. In the late 1960s, he was a volunteer Peace Corps worker in Brazil.
Judge Chasanow, 45, was appointed a magistrate in 1987. She worked in the mid-1970s as an assistant attorney general for Maryland and was named chief of the office's criminal appeals division in 1979, remaining in that post for eight years.
She grew up in Montgomery and now lives in Prince George's with her husband, Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Howard S. Chasanow.
Mrs. Chasanow will be the first female federal judge in Maryland since Shirley Brannock Jones resigned in 1982 after three years on the bench.
She said she will withhold comments about her confirmation until after she is sworn in.
When the three vacancies are filled, it will mark the first time Maryland's 10-member federal bench has had a full complement of judges since August 1990.
Chief Judge Walter E. Black Jr. said the addition of three judges will make "a striking difference. We've kept our heads above water with everybody working hard and with help from the [semiretired] senior judges. But this will be a tremendous shot in the arm."
Judges Chasanow and Messitte and Mr. Williams were recommended to President Clinton last spring by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.