Circuit Court Judge Marcella A. Holland has been a pioneer since she was 12-years-old.
As one of the first Black students to integrate the junior high school in her rural hometown of Cooksville, in Maryland’s Howard County, Holland set the stage for future “first” accomplishments. They include her prestige as the first Black woman appointed as an administrative judge in Maryland and, most recently, as the first Black woman to head the Maryland Conference of Circuit Judges.
“To break a barrier is exciting, and you feel some pressure because you set the tone for the people after you, and you want to set a good example,” Holland said in a phone interview with the AFRO.
Being the only Black female administrative judge elicits the “same feeling” as being the only Black student in the class, she said. “You learn to accept it … and you are always hoping for the next one to follow you.”
The judge earned her law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1983, but not before jumping head first into the field, heading various law groups, including the school’s Black Law Students Association and Student Bar Association. She also landed a coveted internship with then-Circuit Court Judge Robert M. Bell, who would later name her an administrative judge in 2003.
Bell says when a vacancy opened for the position, Holland “was the obvious choice.”
“She has demonstrated over time that she is a work horse, one that knows what she is doing, has a vision and is intent that the judiciary remains prestigious in the eyes of those she serves,” Bell said.
Prior to the administrative judge appointment, Holland served 13 years as assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore City and as an associate judge for Baltimore City’s Circuit Court between 1997 and 2003.
Last year, her peers elected her to head the Maryland Conference of Circuit Judges, while members of the National Bar Association (NBA) elected her chair of the group’s Judicial Council. “Yes, this has been a banner year for me, huh,” Holland said with a laugh.
As the leader of the Maryland’s most influential judicial advisory board, Holland serves as a spokeswoman for the state’s circuit court judges, and as the NBA’s Judicial Council head, she leads judicial training efforts and promotes diversity and opportunity for the federal and state judiciary.
Holland’s colleagues note how respected she is among her judicial peers. “She has an openness that makes her a natural leader,” said Robert Carr, NBA’s executive director. He travelled with Holland to the White House in December and February as she advocated for increased diversity and funding for the federal bench.
“The president really listened to her as she spoke,” Carr said.
Judge Julia B. Weatherly, of the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, calls Holland “fabulous” and “fun.”
“One of the things that always makes me smile about Judge Holland … is that she is the one that marshals through Girl Scouts Behind Bars, which is for Girl Scouts whose mothers are in prison,” Weatherly said.
Through the program, Holland arranges trips for the girls to visit their mothers, sponsors regular cultural events and organizes a mock court trial of Goldilocks and the Three Bears for the young women to understand the judicial process. “You would think that court would be scary for these girls, but instead because of Judge Holland and her constant outreach, they don’t think the courts just take their mothers away. This program puts a face on judges,” said Weatherly, who’s known Holland for 11 years through their work for the National Association of Women Judges.
Regarding Holland’s many community and organizational activities, Weatherly jokes, “I just don’t think she sleeps.”
Holland says multitasking, working hard and perseverance are just three of her secrets. “It also requires you to have a sense of humor and patience, especially as a judge. My mom used to always tell me I didn’t have patience as a child that’s why she would never let me babysit,” she said. “Well, now I have a lot of patience, and I like children.”