APABA-MD, the Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland Hispanic Bar Association co-sponsored a panel discussion, "Pathways to the Bench". The diverse array of panelists included Judge Yolanda Curtin (Circuit Court for Harford County), Judge Charles Dorsey III (Circuit Court Baltimore City), Judge Jeannie Hong (Circuit Court for Baltimore City), Judge Julia Weatherly (Circuit Court for Prince George's County), Judge Ricardo Zwaig (District Court for Howard County), Magistrate Monise A. Brown (Circuit Court for Charles County) and Dave Palmer, a former member of the Judicial Nominating Commission. The event was well attended by members of the bar throughout the State.
The panelists shared their path to the bench, the application and interview process and the qualities that the Judicial Nominating Commission look for in judicial candidates. While some politicking exists at each stage of the process, all agreed that temperament, professionalism, reputation developed during practice and involvement in the community were paramount.
The application process is not easy. The application pokes and prods at every aspect of a candidate's professional development and personal life. It commands a candidate to recall past employment history, activities in the community and bar associations, lawsuits, grievances, finances, and other sensitive matters. Candidates are asked to provide references as well. One panelist suggested to start piecing together the application as you progress throughout your legal career. The application is not one that you can complete in an hour, said one panelist. Click here to view the application.
Once a candidate completes and submits the application, the vetting begins. Local bar and specialty bar associations conduct interviews of candidates and recommend their picks to the Judicial Nominating Commission. Panelists encouraged applicants to familiarize themselves with the specialty bar associations and issues that are important to them in preparation for those interviews. Above all, be prepared to answer the obvious question, "why do you want to be a judge?"
The candidates then interview with members of the judicial Nominating Commission. After interviews, the Commission narrows the pool by compiling a "short list" of candidates that it presents to the Governor for consideration and selection. The Governor interviews the candidates on the short list and makes his selection. Most candidates do not get appointed the first time they apply, and they are encouraged to apply again.
The pathway to become a member of the bench is described as both a wonderful and grueling process. Each panelist offered a piece of advice, and collectively the following resounded throughout: If you want to be a judge, do it for the right reasons. Don't do it for the power. Do it because you want to make a difference. Being a judge is not about you; it is about serving the community. Most importantly, be a good person. You could be a legal mastermind in the courtroom, but if you lack the temperament, the chances of selection and appointment are slim.
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