Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will follow the advice of counsel and not seat Ramona Moore Baker, a non-lawyer, on the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore City — even though she was elected to the bench in November, the governor’s office said Tuesday.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, in an advisory opinion, told O’Malley last month that seating Baker would violate the state constitution. That’s because on the same day Baker won her seat, state voters approved a constitutional amendment that only permits Maryland attorneys to be Orphans’ Court judges in Baltimore.
“There is no dispute that Ms. Baker garnered the requisite number of votes to win one of the three Orphans’ Court seats at issue in the election,” Gansler wrote in the opinion O’Malley requested.
“There is also no dispute that she lacks one of the constitutional qualifications for the position,” Gansler added. “In these circumstances, the issuance of a commission to her, although a ministerial act, would be at odds with the state constitution.”
Within hours of her Election Day victory, Baker said she had retained an attorney and would pursue legal options if denied the seat. But on Tuesday, she made no mention of a court challenge.
“I trust in the Lord of my salvation for the outcome,” she wrote in an e-mail message.
Heading into Election Day, Baker was assured victory. She was one of three candidates for the three seats on the court, which handles probate issues and has jurisdiction over guardianship matters.
Baker, an interior designer, finished second in the race, having received 33.97 percent of the votes cast. That result placed her behind the court’s chief judge, Joyce M. Baylor-Thompson, with 34.72 percent, and ahead of Judge Lewyn Scott Garrett, with 31.04 percent.
But in a statewide ballot, Maryland voters approved — by a nearly 5-to-1 margin — the constitutional amendment making Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court the only one in the state whose judges must be members of the bar.
Baylor-Thompson and Garrett, both lawyers, were outspoken during the campaign season in urging Marylanders to vote for the amendment, which was Question #3 on the statewide ballot. They said a glib understanding of the law and experience in conducting legal research are crucial in deciding the large number of cases that come before Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court.
Garrett, before the election, said being a lawyer is as essential to the task of judging as being a periodontist is to the task of oral surgery.
“I consider myself intelligent, but if you need a root canal, do not come to me,” he said.
Baker — who ran unsuccessfully for the judgeship in 2006 — countered Baylor-Thompson and Garrett by noting that two-thirds of the state’s Orphans’ Court judges are not lawyers, according to the Maryland Judiciary.
Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court has been without a third judge since O’Malley appointed Karen Friedman to the District Court in July. O’Malley may appoint a Maryland attorney to fill the vacancy.