In each issue of Path to Excellence, we ask a successful woman, “What’s in your purse?” This month, we spoke to Judge JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones, District Court for Carroll County.
When Judge JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones speaks at schools about her work as a District Court judge in Carroll County, she always asks students to guess how many women serve on the bench with her.
“They always say ten,” Ellinghaus-Jones said. “It surprises people that it’s only me.”
Ellinghaus-Jones was appointed to the District Court in 1991 by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who had lost Carroll County in his successful reelection bid the year before. For that reason, some surmised that appointing a 34-year woman to the bench was “Schaefer’s revenge on Carroll County,” Ellinghaus-Jones said.
The “mindset that women can’t make these tough decisions” required of a judge has persisted, she said. Since her appointment, no other woman has been appointed to either the District Court or the Circuit Court in the county.
But Ellinghaus-Jones, who turned 60 this year, said it’s time for a change. For one, if she were to retire now, there would be no women presiding over cases in Westminster.
Plus, “the law has to be accessible,” she said. “People have the right to go to court and see someone who looks like them.”
Ellinghaus-Jones grew up in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood and studied accounting at the University of Baltimore before attending law school there as well. Her first job out of school was serving as a law clerk for the well-respected Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke Burns.
Ellinghaus-Jones, who had never been to Westminster prior to becoming a law clerk, saw an announcement for the job posted on an index card outside the dean’s office. At the time, there were six women practicing law in Carroll County.
After clerking for two years, Ellinghaus-Jones practiced law in Hampstead for eight years and then was appointed to the bench. Presiding over cases gives her “the opportunity to steer somebody’s life in a positive direction,” she said, adding that the cases that worry her the most are domestic violence cases.
“People get themselves so trapped they don’t see a way out,” she said.
Ellinghaus-Jones works closely with the local Women’s Bar Association chapter and mentors young lawyers. When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, including her 5-year-old granddaughter.
This past spring, she was named one of The Daily Record’s Top 100 Women. When her name was called and it was time for her to walk across the stage at Baltimore’s Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, she blew a big kiss and waved to the audience, to the delight of many there.
“It was my five seconds,” Ellinghaus-Jones said. “I was going to use it.”
- The blue Kate Spade purse is the first expensive purse Ellinghaus-Jones has ever bought. The all-around zipper means she can fit a file inside it, which she admitted was the justification she used for the purchase.
- The judge recently turned 60 and traveled with pals to Palm Beach, Florida to celebrate.
- Count her among the lucky – Ellinghaus-Jones managed to secure tickets to see “Hamilton” on Broadway. It lived up to its advanced billing, she said.
- Her smart phone has a photo of her granddaughter.
- Ellinghaus-Jones always keeps a copy of the district court schedule in her purse.
- The name tag she wore the night she received her Top 100 Women award remains a favorite souvenir.