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Clyburn to retire from District Court in May

Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn said Monday that he will retire from the Maryland District Court on May 31, giving Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera the chance to name a new leader of the court for bench trials of misdemeanor crimes and lawsuits seeking less than $30,000.

Judge Ben C. Clyburn

Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn says he decided in 2004, when he was named to lead the court, that he would retire at age 60. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

“It’s a good time to go,” said Clyburn, who turns 60 on May 22. “It’s the perfect time, with the new leadership.”

Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Clyburn to the Maryland District Court in Baltimore on Feb. 3, 1995.

Clyburn was named the court’s chief judge on Dec. 29, 2004, by the Court of Appeals’ then-Chief Judge Robert M. Bell. Clyburn said he largely decided then that he would retire at 60, as it would correspond closely to Bell’s constitutionally mandated retirement at age 70 on July 6, 2013.

Clyburn said he has told Barbera he will be available for special assignment on the District Court in cases of vacancies or recusals after May 31.

Barbera did not return a telephone message late Monday afternoon seeking comment on Clyburn’s retirement and plans for a replacement.

Clyburn said he might teach and would consider a job as a lobbyist. He cited his experience testifying before Senate and House of Delegates judiciary and budget committees during the past 10 years on behalf of the Judiciary.

“I’ve developed some good relationships” with legislators, Clyburn said.

“Who knows? I’ll take my time and look around,” he added. “At my age, I still have a shot to do something else.”

Clyburn’s trips to the General Assembly this year have included telling legislators of the Judiciary’s proposal for saving the state about $24 million in complying with the Court of Appeals’ Sept. 25 decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond that arrestees have a right to counsel at initial bail hearings before District Court commissioners.

He is also the nominal plaintiff in an action challenging an order by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Alfred Nance, in which Nance ordered that counsel be immediately supplied to indigent suspects when bail is set.

Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe has said it would cost about $30 million annually to have attorneys on call at the 177,000 initial bail hearings statewide. The Judiciary’s proposal, which includes holding more bail hearings via videoconferencing, would cost $6 million annually.

The Judiciary’s proposal, under which judges would set bail during the week and commissioners would do so only on weekends, has come under fire from legislators who say it would violate the constitutional right to equal protection.

Clyburn said this opposition neither hastened his decision to step down nor hardened his feelings about the legislature, an institution for which he has great respect.

“You need to be prepared” when you testify before the committees, he said. “You’ve got to be on your toes.”

Clyburn said he will miss the staff of the Judiciary, many of whom have been on the job for decades.

“You have people who are really committed here,” Clyburn said.

He also praised the work of the District Court, saying it often prevents petty criminals from engaging in more serious crimes that would be tried in circuit court.

“This is the best job in the system,” Clyburn said. “You have the opportunity to do the most good for people.”

The judge, however, will not miss the commute between his Annapolis office and his Baltimore home, particularly after long nights at work or at evening Judiciary events.

“It gets to be a long day,” Clyburn said. “That’s what I won’t miss.”