Maryland’s retiring top jurist Wednesday ended her last public appearance on the bench by thanking the state’s judiciary and more than 40,000 attorneys for “keeping the rule of law strong.”
“I am gratified beyond words to do the work of justice,” said Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who reaches Maryland’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on Sept. 10. “It has been a wonderful ride.”
Barbera’s words followed her last swearing-in of new Maryland attorneys as chief judge and marked the end of a state judiciary-sponsored celebration of her more than 37-year legal career. The event, held virtually, featured words of praise, reminiscence and best wishes from current and past state leaders and colleagues.
“You have, indeed, spent your entire career doing great things for the people of Maryland,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a recorded message for the event. “Yours is a story of public service.”
Barbera provided much of that service from 1985 to 1998 in the criminal appeals division of the Maryland attorney general’s office – a 13-year stint that drew notice and a job offer from current Attorney General Brian E. Frosh should she come out of retirement.
“You were always our favorite” Court of Appeals judge because of your time in the division, Frosh stated in his recorded message. “There’s a chair with your name on it in the attorney general’s office.”
Frosh also praised Barbera for her “unfailing courtesy and civility” toward the attorneys who appeared before the high court.
Former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Barbera’s boss when she was in the criminal appeals division, thanked her for helping him prepare for his two arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1990, Curran argued successfully in Maryland v. Craig that the closed-circuit testimony of an alleged victim of child sexual abuse does not violate the constitutional right of a criminal defendant to face his or her accuser. Six years later, Curran successfully argued in Maryland v. Wilson that a Maryland state trooper did not violate the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure by ordering a passenger out of a car during a traffic stop.
Barbera was “a credit to our office,” Curran said in recalling her assistance. “You are a credit to the law practice.”
Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe said Barbera earned the respect of the criminal defense bar in the way she guided the state’s courts through the pandemic and how she treated all attorneys who appeared before the high court.
“You should be proud of the state of the judiciary,” DeWolfe said. “You will be missed.”
Barbera left the attorney general’s office to serve as deputy and then chief legal counsel for then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, before he appointed her to the Court of Special Appeals in 2002. Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed Barbera to the Court of Appeals in 2008 and then named her chief – the first woman to be Maryland’s top judge — in 2013 upon the retirement of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.
Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey thanked Barbera not only for appointing him to the administrative post in 2014 but for serving as his “mentor, coach, cheerleader and confidante” with “conviction, understanding and patience,” especially during the pandemic.
Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts, who was appointed to the high court the same day Barbera was named chief, said the “milestone” of being the first woman to lead the Maryland Judiciary is just a part of Barbera’s legacy.
“You have led by example,” Watts said, adding that Barbera is “a molder of consensus.”
“You have served the citizens of Maryland well,” Watts added. “You will be remembered as an extraordinary leader who enjoyed the respect of her colleagues.”