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Both Maryland appellate courts may get new chiefs in 2022

At right, former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, for whom Matthew J. Fader, left, served as deputy chief of the attorney general’s civil division from 2012 to 2015. Fader, now the Court of Special Appeals chief judge, is a candidate to fill the vacancy created in April when Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty retires from the Court of Appeals. (Submitted Photo)

One and possibly both of Maryland’s appellate courts will come under new leadership in 2022.

Joseph M. Getty, chief judge of Maryland’s top court, will reach the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on April 14. Matthew J. Fader, chief judge of the intermediate Court of Special Appeals, has applied for the Court of Appeals vacancy that will be created by Getty’s retirement and is privately considered by many in the state’s legal community as a front-runner for the top post on the high court.

The choice of the Court of Appeals’ next chief judge – and possibly of the next Court of Special Appeals leader – belongs to Gov. Larry Hogan. The governor has publicly kept his own counsel on his coming selection beyond saying he seeks diversity on the bench.

“The speculation that Matt Fader is a leading candidate should surprise no one,” said former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, for whom Fader served as deputy chief of the attorney general’s civil division from 2012 to 2015.

“I was immediately struck by his intelligence, but also his demeanor and judgment,” added Gansler, a candidate for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “I just think Matt Fader would take the court to a different level.”

Many attorneys and judges who have privately predicted Fader will be the next Court of Appeals chief judge declined to comment publicly.

Fader’s nomination to the high court would create a vacancy at the top of the 15-member Court of Special appeals.

Fader, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Fader, 48, is no stranger to Hogan, who appointed the then-assistant Maryland attorney general in charge of civil litigation to the Court of Special Appeals in November 2017 and to the court’s top post a year later when Chief Judge Patrick L. Woodward reached 70.

Getty was even better known by Hogan when the governor appointed him – his chief legislative liaison – to succeed retired Judge Lynne A. Battaglia on the high court in June 2016 before elevating him to chief last September upon the retirement of Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.

Getty’s tenure as chief will be only seven months – from September to April – but, due to the stubborn pandemic, he has been and will continue to serve as more than just a caretaker heading into 2022. On Monday, he ordered that new jury trials would be postponed until Feb. 8 to stanch the spread of COVID-19.

“As throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of the public, judges, and judiciary staff remains our top priority,” Getty said in a statement announcing his order. “In an abundance of caution and through consultation with state leadership, I have made the necessary decision to revert back to Phase III operations. Although reduced in operations, our courts will continue to remain open, ensure access to justice, and provide fair, efficient, and effective justice for all.”

Getty did not immediately return a telephone message to his chambers Tuesday seeking further comment.

In addition to Fader, applicants for Getty’s soon-to-be-vacant seat are Court of Special Appeals Judges Kathryn Grill Graeff and Andrea M. Leahy; Maryland District Court Judge Dino E. Flores Jr.; Columbia attorney Keith S. Blair; Steven L. Tiedemann, general counsel at Powell Recovery Center Inc. in Baltimore; and Dayton attorney M. Craig Wolf.

The Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission, which is vetting the applicants, is scheduled to meet Jan. 7 after which they will submit a list of recommended candidates to Hogan for his consideration.

Getty’s is one of two coming vacancies on the seven-member Court of Appeals in 2022, as Judge Robert N. McDonald reaches age 70 on Feb. 23.

The 11 people who have applied for the seat are Court of Special Appeals Judges Daniel A. Friedman and Douglas R.M. Nazarian; Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Robinson Jr.; Harford County Circuit Judges Yolanda L. Curtin, Angela M. Eaves and Paul W. Ishak; attorneys Robert S. Brennen, of Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore; Irwin R. Kramer, of Kramer & Connolly in Reisterstown; Jason D. Medinger, of the U.S. attorney’s office for Maryland; Deputy Baltimore County Attorney Glenn T. Marrow; and Senior Assistant Howard County Solicitor Morenike E. Oyenusi.

The nominating commission, which is vetting the applicants, is scheduled to meet Jan. 6 before submitting its list of recommended candidates to Hogan.