Mary M. Kramer came to family law by way of a boss with old-school views. In the 1980s, a male lawyer hired her and said, "You're a woman, you'll do the divorce cases."
William V. Tucker first worked with kids and the criminal justice system as a police officer in New Jersey, when he was part of a program similar to DARE.
Kramer and Tucker will bring their diverse experiences to their latest jobs as Howard County Circuit Court's newest masters in chancery, filling vacancies left by two masters who retired from their seats this fall.
The new masters are to begin Dec. 1 and will hear a range of cases, including those on juvenile crime, custody issues and children in need of assistance. The third master, Elaine Patrick, hears only state-involved child support and paternity cases.
The pair replace Nancy L. Haslinger and Bernard A. Raum, who had a combined 33 years of service as masters in Howard and retired about two weeks apart this fall.
Since the retirement of Raum and Haslinger, retired Washington County Judge Daniel Moylan has been hearing juvenile cases, while Howard Circuit Court judges have handled some cases involving children in need of assistance.
Kramer and Tucker were selected by the five Circuit Court judges after a review committee narrowed the field of 44 applicants.
Judge Diane O. Leasure, the county's administrative circuit judge, said that besides their expertise, Kramer and Tucker are bringing "exemplary judicial temperament" to the job.
"They'll exercise patience, civility and professionalism," she said. "And they'll be fair and impartial in their recommendations to the court."
Kramer, 47, has been in private practice for nearly 22 years. At first, she focused on personal injury cases.
"I hated it," said Kramer, of Ellicott City. "You get a lot of money with personal injury, but you never felt good about doing it."
She said that in the beginning of her career, she wouldn't touch family law cases because she feared she couldn't handle what she predicted would be the heightened level of emotion in them. But after a new boss thrust divorce cases upon her, she found the area of law more appealing than she anticipated.
For about the past 10 years, Kramer has been focusing on family law. She said it is gratifying to be able to reach solutions for people who are likely in "one of the worst periods in their lives."
"You've got to feel good about what you do at the end of the day," she said. "And oddly enough, divorce law makes me feel good at the end of the day."
A 1982 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, Kramer said that as a master she wants to ensure that litigants feel their voices have been heard, regardless of whether they win their case.
"I want their experience to be a civil and congenial experience," she said. "I think it's important that being the first contact that many people have with the court system, they walk away from it feeling that they were treated with respect and dignity."
Tucker, 42, of Ellicott City, said he has often participated in the community service field. He spent three years as a police officer in New Jersey and was part of a paramedic unit before graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1991.
He then became a law clerk for Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley, and about a year later was hired as a prosecutor for Howard County. Later, he was head of the county state's attorney's office juvenile division for three years before entering private practice in 1998.
Tucker aspires to be a judge - he twice applied unsuccessfully for District Court judgeships - and said he believes that working as a master will help him reach that goal.
Like Raum - who cited frustrations with the state Department of Juvenile Services as part of his desire to leave his job - Tucker has concerns. The former master accused the department of shirking its responsibility by allowing a youth to be dropped from a substance-abuse program because, he claimed, an insurance company would not pay for further treatment after three weeks.
"Is the state giving [the department] the resources so the kids can get the counseling they need, if their families can't afford it? ... That's where the frustration lies, and you just have to work with them and deal with them," Tucker said.
He said he is drawn to family law and juvenile matters because "kids are our future." He said that most who go through the juvenile court system are first-time offenders who never return, but that he worries about the roughly 20 percent who are repeat offenders.
"We don't want to lose an entire generation of kids," he said. "I have two kids myself. I want to make sure they are prospering and successful adults and fathers and family men when they grow up."
Tucker said that to effect change within the system, he probably will need to be a master for at least five years before pursuing his goal of a judgeship.
"But if I get into being a master and I really enjoy it, I'll stay doing that," he said.