ANNAPOLIS — Prince George’s County may be the next jurisdiction to require that judges on its Orphans’ Court be Maryland lawyers.
Before finishing its session at midnight, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 281. The measure authorizes a statewide ballot question in November 2012 seeking to amend the Maryland Constitution to make a law license a prerequisite for Orphans’ Court judges in Prince George’s County.
The legislative action follows last November’s ratification of a similar constitutional amendment that applied only to Orphans’ Court judges in the city of Baltimore.
Two Maryland counties, Harford and Montgomery, do not have separate Orphans’ Courts, relying instead on circuit court judges to supervise the handling of estates and perform the other functions of the Orphans’ Court.
The General Assembly’s approval of SB 281 was widely expected after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. threw his support behind the measure in February.
“Life is so complicated and estates are so large,” Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in explaining why Orphans’ Court judges, particularly in populous counties, should be lawyers.
“You need somebody sharp on the Orphans’ Court,” Miller said. “You need somebody trained in the law.”
The only opposition that day came from Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a committee member. “A wise and compassionate CPA” who understands the financial implications of wills, trusts and estates would make a fine Orphans’ Court judge, said Forehand, D-Montgomery.
Miller disagreed, saying certified public accountants are better suited to providing expert testimony in Orphans’ Court cases than at making the ultimate legal decision.
Ratification of the amendment limiting Orphans’ Court judgeships in Baltimore to attorneys led Gov. Martin O’Malley to refuse to seat Ramona Moore Baker, a non-lawyer, even though she had won election to the bench the same day as the statewide vote.
O’Malley said he was following the advice of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who concluded that seating Baker would violate the newly amended constitution.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the legislation included Baltimore County. The Daily Record regrets the error.