As residents of Baltimore City enter polling places to cast their ballots, this week and next, they will likely have already made up their minds about who they will vote in favor of for the office of President, Mayor, City Council President, Council Member, and Comptroller.
However, one portion of the ballot is often the subject of the most confusion, but is of vital importance. It is the portion that asks residents to vote in favor of “Judges of the Circuit Court”. Most residents do not interact on a daily basis with members of our judiciary and may only meet a handful of judges in their lifetime. Nevertheless, the vote cast on this portion of the ballot is of utmost importance to our City, State, and nation.
As a Past President of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys of Maryland and as a former chair of its Judicial Nominating Committee, I came to have a deep understanding of why it is so important to support the Sitting Judges. In this election, the six Sitting Judges in Baltimore City are Judge Shannon Avery, Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion, Judge Michael DiPietro, Judge Wanda Keyes Heard, Judge Karen C. Friedman, and Judge Cynthia H. Jones.
The Baltimore City Sitting Judges, unlike their opponents, subjected themselves to the rigorous interview, evaluation and selection process conducted by the local and specialty bar associations throughout the State of Maryland. The Baltimore City Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, the Monumental City Bar Association, the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys of Maryland, the Women’s Bar, the Women’s Law Center, the LGBT Bar Association, and other groups conducted intense interviews of each of the Sitting Judges to assess each candidate’s judicial skills and temperament and then submitted its recommendation to the local Judicial Nominating Commission and the Governor. Not one of their opponents has had to endure any comparable vetting process.
When lawyers challenge the Sitting Judges without going through this extensive process, they deprive diverse communities of the opportunity to vet their judicial temperament and judicial skills. As diverse attorneys engaged in this process, we are able to give voice to real concerns about equity, justice, fairness, and respect. We are able to probe candidates and evaluate them based on their merit.
All too often, judges are selected based on their position on the ballot or name recognition. One unique challenge the Sitting Judges face that their opponents do not is that the Sitting Judges are ethically prevented from making promises about future decisions. The reality is that no person seeking judicial office should ever offer a promise to the public other than that they will apply the facts to the law and treat every individual that appears before them with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, their opponents engage in phantom promises with a legislative spin that will never materialize because judges are not legislators, they are judicial officers.
It would truly be a shame if we find ourselves in a situation where one of the most diverse groups of Sitting Judges is not elected. There are countless names of wonderful judges throughout this State who have been unseated in judicial elections to the community’s detriment. For all these reasons and several others, I will cast my vote for the Sitting Judges and I urge you to do the same.
Past President, Alliance for Black Women Attorneys