Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Editorial: The Getty nomination

The state’s constitution only mandates the Court of Appeals’ judge for the 3rd Appellate Circuit be over the age of 30 and reside in the Western Maryland region. In this way, Joseph M. Getty is undoubtedly qualified.

But surely eyebrows were raised when Getty, Gov. Larry Hogan’s top legislative lobbyist, applied to replace retiring Judge Lynne A. Battaglia and were raised again Wednesday, when Hogan appointed Getty to the state’s highest court. After all, Getty is 64 years old, meaning he can only sit on the bench for six years, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. And he has only been a lawyer for 20 years when most of his new colleagues have been practicing law for at least a decade longer.

Since obtaining his law license in 1996, Getty has maintained his own office in Manchester. Having the perspective of a solo practitioner on the Court of Appeals will be valuable. But Getty is best known for his legislative work, having served in both the House of Delegates and state Senate as well as an aide to both Hogan and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Getty worked in the field of historic preservation.

All of which is to say Getty’s background is unusual for a judge on the Court of Appeals. There have been judges who have lacked judicial experience – including Battaglia and current Judge Robert N. McDonald – and there have been governor’s aides who have become judges. But the combination of both is rare and possibly unprecedented.

But is it a bad thing? Steven M. Klepper, who follows the state’s appellate courts as closely as anyone, told The Daily Record that Maryland is unusual in its reliance on judges to sit on the bench of its highest court. “If we were in any state other than Maryland, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye about this,” he said.

One group that apparently had no qualms about Getty’s qualifications was the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission, which interviews and vets all potential nominees for the Court of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals. The commission forwarded Getty’s name to Hogan in April; while governors are not bound by the list they receive from the commission, they traditionally choose from it.

Getty also has a good reputation in Annapolis and was well-liked during his time in the General Assembly, meaning there most likely will not be a contentious Senate confirmation hearing next year. (Getty will be sworn in before then but must be confirmed by the Senate to remain in his seat.)

Getty told The Daily Record his time in the legislative and executive branches “offers me a great foundation for my new role on the Court of Appeals.” Indeed, it is his policy background that makes him an intriguing selection for the high court. After all, the Court of Appeals ultimately creates policy through its opinions, so Getty’s time in the trenches of Annapolis and his “real-world” experience should provide a different kind of expertise on the court.

That same background, of course, may not be as helpful when the Court of Appeals is presented with a nuanced, specific question on criminal procedure, for example, and we are concerned about his relative lack of legal experience compared to his colleagues.

In the end, however, Getty’s appointment is Hogan’s decision, and the governor’s pick seems to be in line with his efforts to shake things up in Annapolis. That is why we wish Getty success in his new role but also hope he does not set a precedent that keeps “outsiders” off the state’s highest court in the future.