Two circuit court judges were unseated in Howard and Charles counties by attorneys in Tuesday’s judicial elections.
Quincy L. Coleman defeated Howard County Circuit Judge John J. Kuchno by a 52% to 48% margin with all 120,329 votes counted. In Charles County, Makeba Gibbs beat Circuit Court judge Patrick Devine 53% to 47% after all 55,415 votes were tabulated.
The results remained listed as unofficial Wednesday by the Maryland State Board of Elections, but MSBE said its tabulations were based on 100 percent of reported precincts.
Coleman, an Ellicott City solo practitioner and former public defender, during the campaign touted his 20 years of courtroom experience, primarily as a criminal defense attorney. A later-in-life lawyer, Coleman spent the first 20 years of his professional life as a Maryland parole and probation agent before joining the Maryland bar in 1999, according to his campaign website.
He is a University of Baltimore School of Law graduate.
Kuchno, whom Gov. Larry Hogan appointed to the circuit court in December 2018, was senior counsel of Maryland attorney general’s civil litigation division before taking the bench in Howard County. Kuchno also worked at DLA Piper and Kramon & Graham P.A.
Neither Coleman nor Kuchno immediately returned telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the election results.
Gibbs, a La Plata solo practitioner and former public defender, joined the Maryland bar in 2003 after graduating from Widener University’s Delaware Law School in Wilmington, Del., according to her campaign website.
Devine, whom Gov. Larry Hogan appointed to the circuit court in November 2018, is a former partner at Sasscer, Clagett & Bucher in La Plata, where he handled criminal, personal injury and family law cases.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome,” Devine said Wednesday. “The process worked.”
He added he will likely return to private practice.
Gibbs did not immediately returned telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the election results.
Neither Gibbs nor Devine immediately returned telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the election results.
Challengers in other counties with contested elections failed to unseat circuit court judges.
Carroll County Circuit Judge Richard R. Titus withstood a challenge from attorney Laura Morton, a Westminster solo practitioner, by a margin of 65% to 35%.
Rockville attorney Marylin Pierre failed to unseat any of the four Montgomery County Circuit Court judges facing election challenge this year: Bibi M. Berry, David A. Boynton, Christopher C. Fogleman and Michael Joseph McAuliffe. Pierre received 14.4% of the vote, which fell short of the 20.1% received by Fogleman, her closest competitor.
In Prince George’s County, Capitol Heights attorney April T. Ademiluyi failed in her bid for a circuit court seat. She lost to four sitting circuit court judges and Gladys Weatherspoon, a Largo attorney who won a seat on the bench. The four judges are Wytonja Curry, ShaRon M. Grayson Kelsey, Jared Michael McCarthy and Cathy H. Serrette.
Ademiluyi garnered 13.3% of the vote. Her closest competitor, McCarthy, received 13.9%.
Weatherspoon was the plurality vote-getter with 19.3%.
The value of contested circuit court elections sparked heated debate in the General Assembly this year, with the state’s top judge endorsing a proposed constitutional amendment to end the practice and a former elected jurist calling the elections necessary to ensure the judiciary remains diverse.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera told lawmakers that elections politicize the one governmental branch that should never be politicized.
“Judges, quite simply, are not politicians,” Barbera told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, citing the ethical prohibition on judges making campaign-style promises on how they would decide cases.
Judges are also bound to avoid even the appearance of partiality, which is difficult to do while raising money – often from the attorneys who appear before them – to defeat an election challenger, Barbera told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“Where there are contested elections, there is a need for money,” Barbera said. “The only currency in Maryland courts should be, must be, impartiality.”
But William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. said the right to run against sitting judges helped minorities and women diversify through election victories what had been a predominantly white male judiciary through the 1970s.
Murphy, who is black, successfully ran for a seat on the Baltimore City Circuit Court and served until 1983.
He said Maryland governors have increased the circuit courts’ diversity through their appointments, but he added that the right to run against a sitting circuit court judge remains necessary in the event future governors are less enlightened in selecting jurists.
“If we don’t have a seat in the electoral process, we’re going to be stuck with a judiciary that’s predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly Democratic,” Murphy told the Senate committee. “If you pass this bill, don’t be surprised if the judiciary starts turning all male again, starts turning all white male again.”
The proposed constitutional amendment died in this year’s pandemic-shortened General Assembly session.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misidentified Weatherspoon as a sitting judge.