Gov. Martin O’Malley July 3 named Shirley M. Watts to the Maryland Court of Appeals making her the first African-American female appeals court judge.

O’Malley also elevated Appeals Court Judge Mary Ellen Barbera to be the first woman to sit as chief of the state’s court of appeals.

“Judge Barbera and Judge Watts represent the best of the Maryland bar and will do an outstanding job serving on the highest court of Maryland,” said O’Malley in a statement. “I am honored that we are not only making history today with these appointments, but that the hard work, talents and skills of these women will help us build on the progress we’re making together for the people of Maryland.”

The two appointments signal a seminal moment in women’s history in Maryland, creating a female majority on the appeals court.

“The day of women being captives of White supremacy is over in Maryland,” Judge
William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. said. “Women have been oppressed much longer than Black people and women have taken all ounces of strength to come into play.

“Judicial power is firmly in the hands of women for the first time.”

A Baltimore native, Watts, who has had a long, distinguished career on the bar and on the bench, fills a seat vacated by Judge Robert M. Bell who retired this month following a court mandated retirement on his 70th birthday.

“Chief Judge Bell has served for almost four decades in every level of our judicial system and we are grateful for his passion for fairness and commitment to justice,” continued O’Malley in a statement.

A graduate of Howard University and Rutgers University School of Law, Watts is highly praised by members of the Maryland bar.

“She’s extremely intelligent, hard-working, well-prepared and organized, and appreciates the fact that cases impact people’s lives,” said Judge Michele D. Hotten of the Court of Special Appeals in a recent interview with the AFRO.

Hotten said Watts has developed a great understanding of human nature.

After obtaining her law degree, Watts practiced at a private law firm and then served as a prosecutor. She later worked as a federal public defender; a federal administrative judge in California, Pennsylvania and Maryland; a trial judge in Baltimore circuit court and then a judge on the Court Special of Appeals.

Noted Baltimore-based attorney A. Dwight Pettit called Watts an “excellent choice for O’Malley to make.

“In her rulings–we have not always agreed on everything, but they have been progressive, and that’s something the entire community, not just African Americans, should be able to support,” said Pettit. “We need a judge who is committed to protecting fairness and equity for all citizens.”


Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers