Contested Judicial Elections

The primary election date is Tuesday April 26, 2016.

In Maryland, qualified lawyers may run for judge of the Circuit Court in an election.  All Circuit Court Judges appointed by the Governor must stand for election at the first election cycle after their appointment and again every 15 years.  In most counties, the sitting Judges run with no opposition and any vote for the judge is simply to retain the judge.

This year, there is a hotly contested judicial election in Baltimore City.  Six sitting judges are running against a City Councilman, Jim Kraft, and a Public Defender, Todd Oppenheim.

The six sitting judges are:  Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion, Judge Wanda Keyes Heard, Judge Karen C. Friedman, Judge Michael A. DiPietro, Judge Cynthia H. Jones, and Judge Shannon E.Avery.

Should we have Judicial Elections?

There are strong opinions as to whether we should have contested elections for judges in Maryland.   Those against judicial elections believe that judges should be above politics and they worry that a judge’s neutrality may be compromised by campaign donations from the lawyers that appear before them. Critics also worry that Judge’s taking a “position” on an issue may preclude the judge from dispassionately deciding a case.  The strongest argument against judicial elections is that the judges are vetted through a nominating process that presents the best candidates to the Governor for appointment.

Those arguing for contested elections often cite the ability of minorities and women to run and win these elections, as was the case of William H. “Billy” Murphy, Jr. in the election of 1980. Others argue that elections force the candidates  to become more connected to their constituents by campaigning in communities they may not otherwise visit. The candidates for judge will therefore meet the people they serve on their terms.  The community connection allows individuals that will be subject to a judge’s rulings to meet a potential judge or sitting judge in an informal setting rather than for the first time in a courtroom.

Marc Steiner of the Steinershow recently had the six sitting judges on his program.  There was a fascinating discussion about the role of a Circuit Court Judge in our government and each of the judges described their experience during the campaign.  It is a glimpse into our legal system that many Baltimore City residents never see and it is definitely worth a listen.

Whatever your position, now is your opportunity to participate in government by voting and choosing those who implement our government and hold our most cherished rights in their hands.

Disclaimer: David D. Nowak, Esq. is a family law attorney practicing in Baltimore City and surrounding counties.  He has appeared and argued cases before many of the sitting judges while they were in the family law rotation for divorce, custody, child support and alimony.  Additionally, David D. Nowak, was a judicial intern for Judge Wanda Keyes Heard.