ANNAPOLIS – An unsuccessful candidate for election to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court waited too long to challenge in court the constitutional qualifications of a successful opponent, Maryland’s top court unanimously ruled Monday in rejecting a bid to unseat Judge Ingrid M. Turner.
April T. Ademiluyi waited more than six months after the 2016 general election to bring suit alleging that Turner was unqualified for the judgeship because she had never practiced law in Maryland, the Court of Appeals said.
Ademiluyi, a Laurel solo practitioner, also waited a full year after she acknowledged seeing a Washington Post article that mentioned Turner’s experience as a military lawyer and thus put Ademiluyi on notice of a potential qualification claim, the high court held.
Ademiluyi “unreasonably delayed in asserting her rights,” Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote for the court. “It is evident that (Ademiluyi) failed to act with the expediency that is required of election claims.”
The failed candidate’s “‘wait and see’ strategy … was an unjustifiable, intentional delay in the assertion of her rights,” Watts wrote. A candidate “should not be allowed to ambush an adversary or subvert the election process by intentionally delaying a request for remedial action to see first whether (he or she) will be successful at the polls,” Watts added, quoting from the Court of Appeals’ 2005 decision Ross v. State Board of Elections.
The high court stated in a footnote that practicing law in Maryland is not a requirement to be a judge in the state. Article IV Section 2 of the Maryland Constitution requires only that a judge be a member of the Maryland bar, which Turner was, the court said.
Turner and Ademiluyi ran in 2016 with three incumbent circuit court judges for four seats on the Prince George’s County bench. Ademiluyi was the odd person out on Election Day.
Ademiluyi said Monday her delay in filing suit was neither an attempted ambush of Turner nor a subversion of the election process but was intended to give the Commission on Judicial Disabilities time to consider her complaint against Turner that she had violated judicial ethics by endorsing a politician.
“The prudent course of action would be to sit back and wait for the commission,” Ademiluyi said of her strategy. “It was a ‘wait and see’ for the ethics commission.”
In her ethics complaint, Ademiluyi claimed Turner had reached an agreement with state Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, to drop out of the race for a congressional seat the two were vying for and, in return, Pena-Melnyk would endorse Turner for the bench and Turner would endorse Pena-Melnyk for Congress, a seat she did not win.
On April 26, 2017, the commission concluded that “the evidence failed to show that Judge Turner committed sanctionable conduct.” Ademiluyi filed suit less than two weeks later seeking a court order that Gov. Larry Hogan rescind Turner’s commission to the court based on her alleged lack of constitutional qualification.
The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit last September, citing the statute of limitations in Section 12 of the Election Law Article as well as the doctrine of laches, which calls for dismissal when a plaintiff has unreasonably delayed to the opposing party’s detriment.
Ademiluyi then sought review by the Court of Appeals.
Despite her election and high-court defeats, Ademiluyi said she retains her dream of becoming a judge.
“I’m not giving up,” she said. “I’ll find another pathway to the bench.”
Turner did not return telephone and email messages seeking comment Monday.
The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in April Ademiluyi v. Judge Ingrid Turner et al., No. 35 September Term 2017.