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Maryland’s top court becomes ‘Supreme’ as name change takes effect

Change also comes to judges, Court of Special Appeals

With the change in name of Maryland’s top court, Matthew J. Fader is now called the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Maryland. (Submitted Photo)

ANNAPOLIS – The names of Maryland’s two appellate courts and the titles of the state’s top judges changed Wednesday with a gubernatorial proclamation but with little fanfare at their Annapolis courthouse.

The Court of Appeals, the state’s high court, is now the Supreme Court of Maryland and the former intermediate Court of Special Appeals is now the Appellate Court of Maryland. The jurists on the top court, formerly called judges, are now justices and its chief judge, Matthew J. Fader, is now chief justice.

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 on Wednesday issued a written proclamation of the amendment’s adoption.

The now Supreme Court of Maryland met Wednesday afternoon via videoconference and approved a change to the Judiciary’s existing rules of practice and procedure to replace the courts’ old names with the new.

“The Court of Appeals of Maryland and the Court of Special Appeals have a rich and long history operating under these names,” Fader said in a statement Wednesday morning.

“Both courts will continue to honor that history as we carry forward what those who came before us have worked so hard to build,” the chief justice added. “Although the names are changing, Maryland’s highest courts and the entire Judiciary remain steadfastly committed to upholding the rule of law and achieving our mission of providing fair, efficient and effective justice for all.”

E. Gregory Wells, chief judge of the Appellate Court of Maryland, called the name changes “welcome and much needed.”

Supreme Court of Maryland “Hopefully, the voter-approved constitutional change in the names of both courts clears up any confusion among the public, lawyers, and judges from other jurisdictions about the roles of our respective courts,” Wells said in a statement. “It should be noted, however, the precedents, rules, and all other practices of the court are unaffected by the renaming, and we will continue business as usual at the highest level of service.”

Attorneys should also take note that all papers they now file 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.

Appellate Court of MarylandThe 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 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” led many nonlawyers and attorneys from outside Maryland to assume the state’s second-highest court was 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.