Judicial Selection in Maryland

I periodically blog about judicial nominations and vacancies on Maryland’s trial courts because I think a working knowledge of the local bench is important to properly advise clients in personal injury cases.

This is less important for cases in the Circuit Courts because those are usually cases where the injured victim’s damages are determined by the jury, rather than by the judge. In contrast, in District Court cases, the judge hearing the case determines the damages. Because of this, knowing your factfinder is essential to evaluating a settlement proposal or tailoring your presentation to your audience.

As I have noted in previous entries, there is a vacancy now on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and there is an upcoming vacancy on the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Today I was reviewing the nominees for the Baltimore City vacancy and I noticed something I can’t quite figure out.

In Maryland, the Governor appoints judges who then must run for retention in the next general election for a full fifteen-year term. Putting aside the issue of whether electing judges makes any sense in the first place, there are some things about the process that make no sense to me.
The Governor selects from a pool of applicants that have been vetted by the Trial Courts Nominating Commission for each jurisdiction. Once the vacancy is filled, the unsuccessful applicants are put in a “pool” which is then automatically submitted to the Governor for every vacancy on the same court for the next two years. Why? Since new applicants emerge with every vacancy, at least some new applicants are submitted every time. If the idea is to submit to the Governor only the best-qualified applicants, why send the same names as before with a few new faces added?

I think the issue of judicial selection is complicated on both the state and federal level. It clearly makes no sense to have judges elected by the public because only a very small pool of litigation attorneys has a real appreciation of the skill level and aptitude of trial court judges. The process of judicial appointment by a President or Governor is also inherently political. I wonder if there may be a better way to ensure that the public gets the best judges. I don’t know, but I can’t help feeling there must be a way to improve this process.