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barbera-mary-ellenMary Ellen Barbera

Chief Judge
Maryland Court of Appeals

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera was raising young children and teaching in a public elementary school in Baltimore when she was inspired by a family member’s work in the Maryland Office of the Attorney General to attend law school.

She attended evening classes at the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland while continuing her day job, and after law school clerked for the late Judge Robert Karwacki, who moved from a trial judge to the Court of Appeals during her clerkship.

“He became a lifelong friend and mentor,” said Barbera, who has been chief judge since 2013. “By the end of the year in his court, I found appellate work to be my calling.”

Barbera has led the state court system through the pandemic. She ordered that courts be closed to the public and staffed for emergency matters. Judges were authorized to use electronic means to conduct legal proceedings when possible. The courts have resumed operations, including jury trials, after a phased reopening Barbera announced in May.

“Full operations will continue, so long as the level of COVID-19 positivity will allow them,” she said. “But the number of in-person events that can be scheduled must be fewer than before, as distancing in the courthouses and courtrooms must be maintained. The response of the courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts to make access to justice continue during the pandemic is an example of a collective effort by the entire judiciary that should be recognized and of which I am deeply proud.”

Barbera has advised many law clerks and interns, whom she encourages to keep learning and listening.

“Remember that you stand on the shoulders of those before you and that you have an obligation to those who will need support from you,” she advised. “Get the best advice you can from a variety of sources and make principled decisions. Bear in mind always that it is the work that is important, not the person who is fortunate enough to be in the position to be able to do it.”

“Remember that you stand on the shoulders of those before you and that you have an obligation to those who will need support from you”

This is a winner profile from The Daily Record's Icon Honors awards.

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