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Retired Judge McDonald will miss collegiality, plans to pinch sit

Judge Robert N. McDonald said he miss the collegiality after he was forced to retire from the Court of Appeals having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He hopes to continue to serve the court in some capacity. (Capital News Service file photo)

Judge Robert N. McDonald’s constitutionally compelled retirement last Wednesday will not end his service on Maryland’s top court.

McDonald, though having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, will remain on the Court of Appeals as a specially assigned judge until his designated successor, Angela M. Eaves, is confirmed by the Senate and seated on the court, the recent retiree said Friday.

“I’ll be pretty much working full time through the end of the term,” McDonald added, noting he has opinions to write. “I will help the court out until then.”

McDonald said he will then continue to be available for special assignment – in essence to pinch sit – when an active Court of Appeals judge recuses from a case.

“Certainly, I am willing to come back whenever they’ll have me,” McDonald said of the sitting high court judges.

The 1977 Harvard Law School graduate recalled working with Eaves in the late 1990s when they both served in the Maryland attorney general’s office, adding that he has great respect for Gov. Larry Hogan’s nominee to succeed him.

“She probably doesn’t need a lot of advice from me,” McDonald said of Eaves, most recently a Harford County Circuit Court judge. “I know she is very capable. She will make a great judge here.”

McDonald said he expects that being a part-time judge will fall short of the joy he had being an active member of the state’s top court.

In particular, he said he will miss having a full complement of law clerks, the newly minted attorneys who bring their excitement and lend their perspectives as they assist their judges in legal research and drafting opinions.

“They have all been different and interesting and very stimulating to work with,” McDonald said. “I’ll miss some of that.”

McDonald said he will also miss the collegiality of his fellow judges at oral arguments and during their private conferences to discuss the cases.

“It is very collegial here,” McDonald said. “I’ll still get to do that but not as often.”

Much of that personal interaction has already been lost since March 2020 due to the need for video conferencing and social distancing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, McDonald said

“I’ve missed a lot of that the past two years, but it’s prepared me for retirement, maybe,” he added.

The Towson resident said he loves Annapolis and working in Maryland’s capital city but “won’t miss the commute when I have to do it in bad weather.”

McDonald had been working for 13 years as chief counsel of opinions and advice at the Maryland attorney general’s office when then-Gov. Martin O’Malley named him to the Court of Appeals in December 2011. McDonald took his seat on Jan. 24, 2012, and held it until the Maryland Constitution and the calendar forced him to step down.

The retired judge, however, said he concurs with the constitutional command.

“Maybe this is heresy to the judiciary but I think it’s a good idea,” McDonald said of mandatory retirement at 70.

“I think it’s good to have some turnover,” he added. “It is just good to move on and let other people take on the same challenges.”

McDonald said he is grateful for the judges with whom he served on the high court, citing their much appreciated assistance.

“There were many errors in my opinions that never saw the light of day as a result of the generosity of my colleagues,” McDonald said.

“Some of it was just copyediting but some of it was substantive,” he added. “What I hope I have done is do opinions that make sense to someone who is not an expert in the field and that  a reasonably intelligent person could make sense of the decision and decide for themselves whether it was a fair result or not.”