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Assembly passes Orphans’ Court measure

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.

2 comments

  1. Ramona Moore Baker/ Judge Elect Orphans Court

    It appears to me, that the referendum, Question 3 proposed on the Nov.2, 2010 ballot,still has some questions that have not been addressed but have been moled in a corner.

    How is it that non Maryland Bar members can serve in other surrounding counties as Orphanas court Judges and one is a chief Judge? If the Orphans court is the same, in the state of Maryland and the tasks ,at hand, in the Judge of the Orphans Court(s) are the same, then what is the real issue? Is it a pride issue or is it a money issue?

    Education cannot be the only concern but is it power.

    If so many employees throughout the state of Maryland would not have been qualified to run for office.

    Ramona Moore Baker was clearly selected by the people of Baltimore City.

    Some voters feel their votes were clouded by misinformation, too much, to late, or never.

    There is still much to discuss as it relates to the Orphans court in the State of Maryland.

    In history, one man tried to get the powers that be let his people go. It took some time, but the people were set free. The people walked through on dry land which was surrounded by water.

    It took one man, over 100 years to build a boat and to continuously explain to others it was going to rain. The people laughed. And, it rained. Again more water.

    Now, we have a situation where the low powers control the Orphans Court.

    I agree with Senator Foreman. There must be a balance of professionals that sit on the Orphans Court in Baltimore City.

    In a hospital, there are many professionals that attend to the needs of the sick.

    And, many times, those professionals get it wrong. When errors are incurred, a specialist is consulted.

    What is the real fear with the Orphans court in Baltimore City?

  2. Ramona Moore Baker

    Correction

    I agree with Senate President Mike Miller that the Orphans court should have a person with an MBA or CPA.

    However, if only lawyers sit on the bench how could Senator Forehand run for the office, even with qualifications. The work load could be dividing allowing each Judge to focus on the needs and strenghs of the families, court and the state.

    Correction Senator Forehand
    Mike Miller made the comment on Senator Forehand

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