Recently retired Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, who often regales visitors to Maryland’s high court with stories of its history, said he plans to put his words to paper within the next few years as a “retirement project.”
The planned book will cover the past 100 years of the court, beginning when judges began wearing robes in the 1920s and ending with this November’s referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment to change the court’s name to the Supreme Court of Maryland, Getty said Thursday.
“I have a bunch of stuff,” he said of material for the book. “I just have to organize it.”
Getty’s comments came one week after he stepped down from the bench upon reaching Maryland’s constitutionally mandated judicial retirement age of 70. He has been succeeded by Matthew J. Fader, who, like Getty, was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Getty said he and Fader have “been talking a lot” about being chief judge, a job that places you first among equals on the seven-member high court and is chief administrator of the Maryland Judiciary. Fader, who had been chief judge of the intermediate Court of Special Appeals, recently joined Getty in a meet-and-greet session with high court staff to set a tone of common purpose from the top down in the court’s mission of achieving justice, Getty said.
“I think he’ll be a great chief judge (and) continue the collegiality of the court,” Getty said of Fader.
Getty also gave his successor high marks for the way he conducted the Court of Appeals’ private monthly conference on Thursday to discuss pending decisions and whether to hear cases petitioned for its review.
Getty joked that he “had bleacher seats” at the meeting.
“I was in the senior section,” he added.
The retired chief judge said he will be available for assignment to serve on high court in cases when a judge has recused himself or herself.
Getty predicted the transition from chief to part-time judge will not feel odd. Rather, the change will be a welcome return to his first three years on the high court when he was either the most or second-most junior member and thus sat at the far ends of the bench. Both seats provide elbow room not enjoyed by more senior judges, including the chief, who sit between colleagues.
“It’s a good place to listen and contemplate,” Getty said of having an end seat during oral arguments.
However, Getty said he will “miss being in the courtroom” more regularly and sharing in “the give-and-take with the other members of the court.”
He will also miss the regular give-and-take with the attorney arguing the cases.
“It’s great to interact with the members of the bar in that capacity,” Getty said.
But the retired chief judge said he will not miss sitting with his fellow Court of Appeals judges in deciding the professional fate of lawyers accused of ethical wrongdoing by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission and its administrative prosecutor, bar counsel.
“It’s still hard as a judge to have to see the professional or the personal failings of members of the bar,” Getty said.
“It’s not an easy process for the court,” he added. “I will be glad to be passing that on to the newer members of the court.”
Getty was a former Maryland senator and delegate and legislative adviser to Govs. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Hogan when the latter appointed him to the Court of Appeals in 2016 to succeed retired Judge Lynne A. Battaglia. Hogan appointed Getty chief judge last September upon the retirement of Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
Getty, now a victim of mandatory retirement himself, said he has no quarrel with what he and other retired judges have jokingly called “the constitutional age of senility.”
“Change is good,” he said.
The retired chief judge said his experience in and with the legislature enabled him to bring to the bench “a realistic perspective of how Maryland laws are written” and thereby assist his colleagues in interpreting those statutes and their legislative history.
He said legislative history is important in Maryland because the statutes are often not clearly written, which Getty called an inevitable consequence of a part-time legislature trying to pass laws in a 90-day session.
“The legislature makes mistakes,” Getty said. “The court must look at the legislative history to figure out what the (legislative) intent was.”
As a result, attorneys arguing cases of statutory interpretation must be prepared to discuss the legislative history and intent — areas of the law where the high court sees “the most frequent mistakes” in lawyers’ brief and arguments – Getty said.
In comparing his legislative and judicial careers, Getty said he much preferred being a judge.
He noted that in the House of Delegates, he was one of 141 members, and in the Senate he was one of 47 senators. But on the Court of Appeals he was one of just seven judges.
“I had more influence” on the court, Getty said. “I didn’t have as many people to persuade.”
Getty said his only regret as chief was an inability to get the two clocks in the courtroom to run on time, a problem that apparently also plagued his two immediate predecessors, Barbera and Robert M. Bell.
“You would think the chief judge could get the clocks to run on time, and I was a complete failure,” Getty said.