Maryland’s appellate judges and the attorneys who appear before them have formed a group to enhance civility, professionalism and ethics on the bench and bar, as well as mentor young lawyers and law students in the art of appellate advocacy.
The organization will also promote diversity and is named in memory of Judges Harry A. Cole and Rita C. Davidson, the first Black person and the first woman to serve on Maryland’s highest court.
“We see so much dissension in our politics and society today,” said Judge Andrea M. Leahy, chair of the Cole-Davidson American Inn of Court’s organizing committee. “We are going to swim against that tide. We are going to bring people together.”
Leahy, who serves on the intermediate Maryland Court of Special Appeals, said the group will focus on “creating opportunities and dismantling barriers.”
The Cole-Davidson group, which officially formed Wednesday afternoon at a bylaws-approval meeting in Annapolis, is affiliated with the American Inns of Court. The American Inns supports state and local bench and bar groups dedicated to professionalism and mentoring.
Cole-Davidson is the sixth inn dedicated to appellate practice and will seek to draw student members not only from the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore law schools but also from law schools in Washington, organizers said.
Annual dues for full, nonstudent members will be $385 per year.
Jose F. Anderson, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor, will serve as the group’s president for its first year and be succeeded by Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge E. Gregory Wells.
Anderson said the group will foster “the rule of law in our society.”
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader said the group has the support of the state’s top court.
“My colleagues are excited for this, and I am as well,” Fader said.
Leahy, Anderson and Fader delivered their comments Wednesday evening at the group’s inaugural reception in the Court of Appeals courtroom, an event that included tributes to Cole’s and Davidson’s trailblazing service on Maryland’s top court from two judges who kept that fire burning.
Robert M. Bell, the Court of Appeals’ first Black chief judge, recalled Cole as a beloved but demanding mentor. Bell, who served as chief from 1996 to 2013, said he has personal knowledge that Cole “did not suffer fools gladly.”
Mary Ellen Barbera, the high court’s first female chief judge, voiced regret that she never met Davidson but thanked her posthumously for setting a strong standard of excellence.
Barbera, who was chief from 2013 to 2021, said she appreciates Davidson’s retort to concerns that she would not be warmly welcomed to a court that had been exclusively a fraternity: “Men generally like women. I find no reason to believe that my newfound colleagues on the Court of Appeals will deviate from that.”
Cole and Davidson were both appointed to the high court by acting Gov. Blair Lee III.
Cole served on the high court from 1977 until he reached the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on Jan. 1, 1991. He died on Feb. 14, 1999, at age 78.
Davidson was on the high court from 1979 until her death from cancer on Nov. 11, 1984. She was 56.
The seven-member Court of Appeals currently has four female judges, three of whom are Black.
Retired Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia invoked Cole and Davidson in urging the assembled appellate judges and attorneys to focus on mentoring young lawyers and law students.
“It is a very human effort that all of us should be engaged in,” said Battaglia, who became the first presidentially appointed female U.S. attorney for Maryland when President Bill Clinton named her in 1993. “There is a very human element to what we are doing here tonight … bringing a greater sense of justice to our state.”
Before the inaugural reception, the group named Bell, Barbera and former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty honorary members.
Getty, the high court’s unofficial historian, spoke of the courtroom’s architectural history and the honor and privilege of being there as a judge, advocate or newly admitted attorney.
“Welcome to the room where it happens,” said Getty, who served as chief from September 11, 2021, to April 14, 2022, when he reached age 70.