Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has chosen a short-term replacement for the chief judge of Maryland’s highest court, selecting Joseph Getty — who must retire next spring — while directing his staff to look for Getty’s eventual replacement.
Getty, a former Republican legislator who prior to his appointment on the Court of Appeals in 2016 was Hogan’s chief lobbyist, will replace Mary Ellen Barbera, who is retiring after eight years leading the court.
But Getty himself will reach mandatory retirement age next April. The governor’s office said in a statement that Hogan has directed his chief legal counsel to “immediately begin a process to identify a new chief judge.”
Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement that Getty will “continue to provide exemplary service on the bench.”
In an interview, Getty said one of his priorities is building a “post-COVID judiciary.”
“All the courts throughout the country are looking at changes in operations to provide greater access to the courts, and, because of COVID, we’ve turned a lot more to technology,” Getty said. “I think that’ll be a primary goal for the courts going forward — to take the lessons learned from the COVID pandemic and implement them to provide greater access for citizens.”
The chief judge is the administrative head of the judiciary and holds policy-setting powers. Before Getty’s appointment, the position had been held by only three people over the past 50 years, all who had extended terms.
Asked why Hogan chose a short-term option, spokesman Mike Ricci said: “Judge Getty is a brilliant jurist, and we’re fortunate that Marylanders will have the benefit of his service until next April.”
Through their spokespersons, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones declined to comment.
Getty is a Manchester resident who earned his law degree at age 44, and before being appointed to the state’s highest court had never been a judge.
Before becoming a lawyer, he served seven years as the executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, from 1987 to 1994.
Getty represented Carroll County in the House of Delegates from 1995 to 2003, and was the policy and legislative director from 2004 to 2007 for Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. He then served in the Senate from 2011 to 2015 before joining Hogan’s staff.
Getty said his legislative experience is key to his role as a judge.
“I think my tenure on the court has been marked primarily by my past legislative experience,” he said. “A lot of what the modern courts deal with is statutory interpretation, and it’s been very interesting for me to have been on both sides, in the legislature, creating statutes, and in the judiciary, interpreting statutes. I feel like I’ve brought a realistic perspective to the court in some of its interpretation of statutes.”
Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Baltimore County Democrat, had urged Hogan to select Judge Shirley Watts, noting her experience on the court and ability to serve through 2029. But Sydnor said Friday that he was not surprised that Hogan chose “his friend,” and questioned whether Hogan made the choice for political reasons due to possible legislative redistricting challenges that could reach the highest court.
“Looking politically, we wonder, is this something to be concerned about?” Sydnor said.
Del. Jason Buckel, the Republican minority leader who represents Allegany County, said he went to law school with Getty and said the judge is widely respected and a “wise choice” by Hogan.
“It’s a logical pick, and I don’t think it’s politically oriented other than he knows Judge Getty well and has trust and faith in his abilities,” Buckel said.
To fill Barbera’s seat on the court, Hogan selected Court of Special Appeals Judge Steven B. Gould, who is from Montgomery County.
“Judge Gould is a distinguished jurist committed to justice and fairness, and it is my privilege to elevate him to the state’s highest court,” Hogan said in a statement.
Barbera, a former public school teacher who earned a law degree at night, was the first woman to lead the court, appointed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Last year, she formed the Committee on Equal Justice to make recommendations on strategies to dismantle discriminatory behaviors in all aspects of the judiciary’s functions.
“I look forward to working with Chief Judge-Designate Getty to ensure a smooth transition of leadership of the Maryland Judiciary,” Barbera said in a statement. “I trust that he will find this the opportunity of a lifetime to serve the people of Maryland in this capacity, helping to ensure equal justice under law for all.”
Over the past 50 years, the court has only had three chief judges, all of whom had extended stays. Judge Robert C. Murphy held the position from 1972 to 1996, and was succeeded by Robert M. Bell, who was the chief judge from 1996 until 2013, when Barbera took over. Bell was the first Black chief judge.
In addition to Barbera and Getty, the Court of Appeals has another looming hole to fill — Judge Robert N. McDonald also will have to retire in February. When McDonald’s successor is chosen, Hogan will have filled six of seven seats on the state’s highest court.
Hogan’s statement said that in addition to finding a long-term chief judge, he’s directed his staff to find replacements for Getty and McDonald, as well as for Gould’s spot on the Court of Special Appeals.