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Getty welcomes ‘generational change’ in Maryland Judiciary

Chief Judge Joseph J. Getty was feted by his colleagues on the Court of Appeals. He has reached the state’s mandatory retirement age. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — Retiring Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty Friday called his coming departure from the high court part of a “generational change” in the state judiciary that should be welcomed.

“All well-run organizations need a rebirth with new leaders,” said Getty, who reaches the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on Thursday.“I think our future is bright with our new crop of judges throughout the state.”

In his remarks, Getty made reference to recent turnover on the high court, which resulted from the retirements of four of the six judges who were on the bench when he joined in 2016.

(The four newest judges, all appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, are Steven B. Gould, who succeeded Mary Ellen Barbera last year; Judge Jonathan Biran, who succeeded Clayton Greene Jr. in 2019; Judge Brynja M. Booth who succeeded Sally D. Adkins in 2019; and Judge Angela M. Eaves, who will succeed Robert N. McDonald this year. Hogan has appointed Judge Matthew J. Fader to take Getty’s seat but has not yet named a new chief judge of the high court).

Getty’s comments on the judiciary’s future came at the conclusion of a courtroom celebration his high court colleagues convened for him.

Getty’s six fellow judges praised how he led the court by fostering collegiality with his humor, baked goods, boundless knowledge of Maryland history, fondness for buttons and love of Russian nesting dolls-within-dolls.

“He is able to lighten the mood in any room he is in,” including the conference room where cases are discussed, Biran said. “I’ve never known anyone who cares more deeply about the state of Maryland.”

McDonald, who is serving by special assignment on the high court following his retirement in February, recalled his first bittersweet connection with Getty about 25 years ago.

McDonald, then with the Maryland attorney general’s office of opinions, was driving to his office to fax an opinion requested by Getty, then a Republican Maryland delegate from Carroll County. But en route, the car’s radiator exploded in a busy Baltimore intersection.

As a result, “the name Joe Getty was associated in my mind for many years with an exploded radiator,” McDonald said, adding that the dispiriting mental image has been supplanted by “an outstanding chief judge (who) considered us all members of the same team.”

Gould fondly remembered the simple handwritten note Getty wrote him upon his appointment to the intermediate Court of Special Appeals in 2019. That “warm, thoughtful” act set Getty apart from all the other well-wishers who conveyed their congratulations via telephone or email, Gould said.

Gould added that he admires how Getty chooses the words of his opinions “purposefully and carefully” but is still willing to cite former Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver, as the chief judge did in writing for the 6-1 majority last year in Attorney Grievance Commission v. Chauncey Bayarculus Johnson.

Booth called Getty “the great unifier of our court” and voiced admiration for what she called “the art of collegiality – Getty style.”

This style entailed bringing in baked goods, making and distributing campaign-style buttons with the faces of the judges and quizzing not only his own clerks but those of the other judges on Maryland history and geography.

Booth added she will remember “the Getty Magical Mystery Tour,” the chief judge’s frequent trips to as many courthouses as he can visit in a single day, no matter how far distant they may be from each other. Getty would not leave any courthouse without meeting and thanking every employee for their service, Booth said.

Judge Shirley M. Watts said Getty has “an extraordinary depth of experience and knowledge” that comes from having served as a state senator and delegate, as well as legislative adviser and liaison for Governors Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Hogan.

She called Hogan’s appointment of Getty to the high court in 2016 and elevation to chief judge last year “a circumstance for which Maryland is very, very fortunate.”

Judge Michele D. Hotten said Getty knows that “each person has a perspective that you can learn from” and that “truth is more than a mental exercise.”

Turning to Getty, Hotten added that “you pursue the true essence of the rule of law.”

Getty’s colleagues gave him three gifts for his retirement: A Russian nesting doll that features the chief judge’s visage and when opened reveals former Court of Appeals chief judges; an 1862-63 volume of Maryland Court of Appeals opinions; and an historic chair from Carroll County Circuit Court that will be embossed with his name and dates of service on the high court.

Booth also distributed buttons featuring Getty’s face.

The chief judge, not to be outdone, had a gift of his own. Each judge received a nesting doll that featured Getty and opened to reveal in decreasing order of seniority, the other judges on the high court.