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Maryland’s appellate courts will get new names Dec. 14

Change is coming to the Maryland Judiciary at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

That’s when the names of Maryland’s two appellate courts will change and the “judges” on Maryland’s top court will become “justices,” with Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader becoming chief justice, the Maryland Judiciary has announced.

The Court of Appeals will become the “Supreme Court of Maryland” and the Court of Special Appeals will become the “Appellate Court of Maryland.”

Maryland voters approved the constitutional amendment renaming the courts and the judicial titles on Nov. 8 by a margin of 75% to 25%. Gov. Larry Hogan is expected soon to issue a proclamation announcing the amendment’s approval.

The new nomenclature is “a change in name only,” the Judiciary recently stated on its website.

The appellate courts’ “precedents, rules and all other practices … are unaffected by the change and will continue in force,” the Judiciary added.

Attorneys, however, should take note that all papers they file at or after 12:01 Dec. 14 with Maryland’s top two courts are to be captioned “Supreme Court of Maryland” or “Appellate Court of Maryland.” Lawyers who fail to include the new caption will be required to file a corrected paper, the Judiciary stated.

The Supreme Court of Maryland’s first public session will be Jan. 6, when the “justices” sit for oral arguments. The high court’s three living past chief judges – Robert M. Bell, Joseph M. Getty and Mary Ellen Barbera – have been invited to attend, the Judiciary stated.

The Dec. 14 date was first reported by Maryland Appellate Blog.

The General Assembly approved the name-changing amendment for referendum at the urging of then-Court of Appeals Chief Judge Barbera last year.

Barbera said then that many nonlawyers and attorneys from out of state justifiably presume Maryland’s court of last resort would have the name “Supreme” – as is the case in every other state except New York, which also has an ultimate Court of Appeals.

“The efforts to resolve the confusion caused by the names of Maryland’s appellate courts are not new, going back to the 1967-68 Constitutional Commission and Convention and then again throughout the 1990s,” Barbera said after the amendment cleared the legislature. “I am gratified that the General Assembly has supported a long needed change that will help the people of Maryland and beyond understand Maryland courts better.”

Fader, then Court of Special Appeals chief judge, told legislators last year that changing the name of the intermediate court was also necessary because the current name had become a “misnomer.”

“Court of Special Appeals” was correct when it reviewed only a “special” category of cases, namely criminal appeals, said Fader, whom Hogan appointed Court of Appeals chief judge in April.

Fader said last year that the Court of Special Appeals has for decades heard all manner of appeals from the state’s circuit courts.

He added that the word “special” has led many nonlawyers and attorneys from outside Maryland to assume the state’s second-highest court is above the Court of Appeals.

The impetus for the change from “judge” to “justice” began with former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who stepped down in 2013 upon reaching the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70.

Bell used to chide attorneys who mistakenly referred to the high court’s judges as “justices,” telling them that there was no justice in Maryland.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters and Del. Ron Watson, both Prince George’s County Democrats, were chief sponsors of the proposed amendment in 2021.