Judge Michele D. Hotten joined Maryland’s top court Tuesday afternoon with a pledge of “ensuring justice” for the people of the state and seeking the assistance of a higher power.
“The goal of justice is fairness,” Hotten said shortly after being sworn in by Gov. Larry Hogan, who appointed her to the Court of Appeals on Dec. 1.
“Justice is the last best hope for achieving the goals in the preamble of the Constitution,” including domestic tranquility and forming a more perfect union, she added during her investiture ceremony in the House Chamber.
“I ask God to guide me as He has always done,” Hotten said.
She thanked Hogan, adding that she is “deeply humbled by this honor” of serving on the high court.
Hogan told the assembly of current and former judges and elected officials that he has “no doubt that Judge Hotten will make an excellent addition to this bench.”
The Court of Appeals is next scheduled to hear cases Jan. 7.
The ceremonial robing of Hotten as a new judge was performed by her daughter, Danielle. The elder Hotten then spoke of her mother, who she said was unable to attend the ceremony due to poor health.
“My mother persevered and overcame many obstacles to raise us,” a choked-up Hotten said, breaking to regain her composure.
“The seeds of my desire to achieve my goals were planted by her” and other family members, she added.
Retired U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr., a former law professor of Hotten’s, praised her “steadfast commitment and deep devotion to the legal profession.”
Williams, who served in the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, added that Hotten has “a quiet grace” and “courage, passion and a reputation for open-mindedness.”
Hotten, 61, succeeds Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. on the seven-member Court of Appeals. Harrell retired upon reaching the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on June 27.
‘Depth and breadth’
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera welcomed Hotten to the high court by praising her “extraordinary depth and breadth of judicial experience,” having now served on all four levels of the Maryland Judiciary: district court, circuit court, the Court of Special Appeals and now the Court of Appeals.
“We look forward to working shoulder-to-shoulder with you for the people of Maryland,” Barbera said.
Hogan elevated Hotten to the high court after she had serving on the Court of Special Appeals since August 2010. She had been a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge for 15 years prior to her appointment by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley to the intermediate appellate court.
Hotten, a 1979 Howard University School of Law Graduate, has also served as a deputy people’s zoning counsel in Prince George’s County and as a hearing examiner at the county’s board of education.
Hotten’s elevation means that five of the high court’s seven judges will be women, the first time women have comprised a supermajority on the Court of Appeals. As of September, Washington was the only state whose supreme court consisted of a supermajority of female judges, according to data compiled by the National Center for State Courts.
Hotten’s elevation also increases the number of blacks on the court to three, the most in Maryland history.
Hotten, though she may now take her seat on the high court, must be confirmed by the state Senate in order to remain there, though confirmation is widely presumed to be assured. The General Assembly will convene for its 2016 session in January.
Under the Maryland Constitution, Harrell’s successor was required to be an attorney or judge residing in Prince George’s County and be at least 30 years old. Harrell represented the 4th Appellate Judicial Circuit, which covers Prince George’s County.