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8 judges, 1 attorney vie for 2 coming Md. high court vacancies

Eight judges and an attorney are finalists for two coming vacancies on Maryland’s top court.

Five of the judges and the lone attorney are in the running for the Court of Appeals seat that will become vacant when Judge Robert N. McDonald reaches the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on Feb. 23. The other three judges are candidates for Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty’s seat, which he leaves upon reaching70 on April 14.

The Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission winnowed the list of applicants for the two slots and submitted its list of recommended candidates to Gov. Larry Hogan last week.

Hogan’s nominees for the two seats will be subject to Senate confirmation.

Due to Getty’s pending retirement, Hogan will have the opportunity to name the high court’s next chief judge by either elevating a current member or choosing between his coming nominees.

The finalists for McDonald’s 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 and Angela M. Eaves; and Jason D. Medinger, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland.

The finalists for Getty’s seat are Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader and Court of Special Appeals Judges Kathryn Grill Graeff and Andrea M. Leahy.

The finalists’ path to Hogan’s desk took longer than initially expected because Hogan requested that the Judiciary readvertise for applicants after only 11 white judges or lawyers had applied for the two seats.

The governor’s office stated readvertisements were in order due to Hogan’s belief that “the judiciary should reflect the diversity of the citizens it judges and serves.”

The readvertisements attracted eight additional applicants, including seven of African, Hispanic or Egyptian descent.

Of the nine finalists, seven are white. Curtin is from Cuba and Eaves is black.

Hogan has not stated when he will announce his nominations.

The governor is not bound to make his selection from the candidates submitted by the commission but it has been gubernatorial practice for about 50 years.

A recent national survey of state supreme courts noted that the Maryland Court of Appeals has no Latino or Asian American judge.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s April 2021 report did find that the ethnic and gender diversity on Maryland’s seven-member top court exceeds  the national average regarding Black and women state supreme court judges.

The Court of Appeals consists of two Black women, Shirley M. Watts and Michele D. Hotten; a white woman, Brynja M. Booth; and four white men, Getty, McDonald, Jonathan Biran and Steven B. Gould.

Maryland, at 28%, exceeds the national average of 17% of state supreme court judges who are people of color and, at 42%, bests the national average of 39% of seats held by women. Maryland had reached 57% for women before then-Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera stepped down in September upon reaching age 70.

Hogan subsequently elevated Getty to chief judge and selected Gould for the high court.

McDonald holds the high court seat that must be held by a judge who resides in Harford County or Baltimore counties. Getty hold the seat reserved for a judge who lives in any of the following counties: Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Howard or Washington.