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Maryland Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals, the highest court in the State of Maryland, was created by the Maryland Constitution of 1776. It is located in Annapolis. The court's origins go back to 1694 when royal governor Francis Nicholson first established the Court of Appeals, our state's “supreme court.” Technically, the name of the court is the Court of Appeals of Maryland, but it is typically referred to as the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Maryland Court of Appeals

Maryland's highest court hears cases almost exclusively by way of certiorari, a discretionary review process. In other words, it only considers cases that it believes have issues that are worth addressing. If the court does not believe there is an issue that needs to be given further consideration or analysis, it will deny certiorari and refuse to hear the case. 

A petition for writ of certiorari filed in the Maryland Court of Appeals seeking the court to overrule a decision of the Court of Special Appeals must be submitted no later than 15 days from the date of the order of the Court of Special Appeals.  Occasionally, a the court will snag an appeal from Circuit Court and bypass the intermediate appellate court.  This happened to us in one of our cases. But it is rare. 

Another important function of the Maryland Court of Appeals is that the court may adopt rules of judicial administration, practice, and procedure that have the force of law. The most notable example of this is Maryland Rules which sets forth the rules of practice and procedure for Maryland state courts.

The Maryland Court of Appeals also supervises the exercise of the disciplinary and reinstatement powers of the local courts, as the Court of Appeals has original and complete jurisdiction over attorney discipline matters. A court must insist upon the maintenance of the integrity of the Bar and to prevent the transgressions of an individual lawyer from bringing its image into disrepute.

This high court has exclusive jurisdiction over death penalty appeals (a thing of the past), lawsuits involving redistricting/gerrymandering, issuing advisory opinions to federal courts, and the removal of elected officials. 

There is the current makeup of the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2020: 

  • Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera
  • Judge Joseph M. Getty
  • Judge Shirley M. Watts
  • Judge Michele D. Hotten 
  • Judge Brynja M. Booth
  • Judge Robert N. McDonald
  • Judge Jonathan Biran
Maryland Court of Appeals judges have traditionally (and remarkably) been very nonpartisan, nonpolitical judges.  Governors Ehrlich, O'Malley and Hogan all seemed to set party affiliation aside and reach to select the most qualified judge.  It is the opposite of the U.S. Supreme Court where political affiliation tells you almost everything about how a justice will vote. Dissenting opinion are not infrequent but they are never personal attacks on the majority opinion. Our lawyers get frustrated with the court because it is sometimes stuck in the 19th century.  But we have honest people trying ot make the best calls they can. Marylanders should be proud of their court.   

One thing that surprises people about the Maryland Court of Appeals is that, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, retired Court of Appeals judges often stay on the bench.  It is an odd rule that allows retired judges to be recalled into service on the court.  So you will regularly see retired judges coming back and deciding cases, particularly Judge Alan Wilner, Judge Sally Adkins, and Judge Lynne A. Battaglia.

Often major 4-3 rulings involve one or more retired judges who return to the court.  Retired judges give Maryland a very deep bench of knowledge and experience.  But whether there is wisdom in having an inconsistent court is another question that is harder to answer. 

In the past, there were too many obstacles in getting opinions back from the court.  New Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera (actually not so new anymore) has done a fantastic job of turning that around and getting opinions decided in a reasonable time frame. 

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