James B. Kraft has thought about being a judge for some time, but after three terms on the Baltimore City Council, he decided now is the right time in his career to set his sights on the bench – even though he would not be able to occupy his seat for very long.
Now 66, Kraft would be less than three years into a 15-year term before reaching Maryland’s mandatory retirement age if elected next year to the Baltimore City Circuit Court. But he said Friday he is not concerned about his age’s effect on his qualifications.
“Lots of people today start a new career at 60,” he said. “I’m looking at this as being another chapter in my life.”
Moreover, as Kraft pointed out, judges can continue to work after they turn 70, sitting specially assigned throughout the state when needed, and initiatives to raise the retirement age were introduced in the General Assembly last year and are expected again this year.
“I would like to sit as long as I can and do a good job,” he said.
Kraft announced his candidacy in June and said he has been raising money and has a campaign strategy, though he’s not prepared to say how he plans to unseat one of the six sitting judges who will be on the ballot with him.
A sitting judge in Baltimore has not been unseated since 1982.
“I’m not running against anybody,” Kraft said. “I’m running for a seat on the bench.”
H. Mark Stichel, chairman of the Baltimore City Sitting Judges Committee, noted the incumbent judges have been through the judicial appointment process. Stichel expressed confidence in the slate – Judges Shannon E. Avery, Audrey J.S. Carrion, Michael A. DiPietro, Karen Chaya Friedman, Wanda Keyes Heard and Cynthia H. Jones – and questioned why any judicial candidate would seek to “upset a system that has worked well.”
“I think the process has worked well and [the election] is kind of the end of the process,” Stichel said.
Kraft said judges can be appointed and confirmed in an election or elected directly and he is choosing to go through the electoral process.
In the end, he said, each candidate is asking voters to say, “You’re the person I want to sit there.”
Kraft, a Democrat who represents southeast Baltimore, said as he approached the end of his third term, he began contemplating his future, looking at his accomplishments and where he felt he could do the most good.
“I love this job and I also wanted to be a judge,” he said.
Kraft ultimately he decided he could make the greatest impact as a judge.
“I’ve thought about it for some time,” he said. “It’s not something that just popped into my head.”
Kraft said a lot of his City Council experiences should translate to the bench, from resolving disputes to drafting legislation. Kraft has also been the chair of the judiciary and legislative investigations committee since he joined the council in 2004.
Kraft also said he brings a different perspective to the bench because of his time on the council.
“I think I’m very good at analyzing why a law is written a certain way,” he said. “I come out of the community and I see the law applied on a day to day basis.”
People understand what council members do, Kraft said, but the court system is a bit of a mystery to many voters. Part of his campaign will be explaining the role of courts and judges.
“I’m really excited about this,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the coming months.”