Gavel Grab

Another Possible Diversity Milestone in Maryland

President Barack Obama nominated Theodore Chuang and George Hazel for federal judgeships in the U.S. District Court of Maryland yesterday.  If confirmed, Chuang would be the first person of Asian descent to serve as a federal judge in Maryland as well as the first Article III judge of Asian descent in any court covered by the Fourth Circuit.

In a statement from the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), Tina Matsuoka stated, “Mr. Chuang is exceptionally qualified to serve on the federal judiciary in Maryland. We also applaud President Obama’s ongoing commitment to nominating qualified Asian Pacific Americans to serve on the federal courts.” A press release from NAPABA noted that if all nominees are confirmed by the Senate, the number of Asian Pacific American federal judges will be more than tripled during the Obama Administration.

The Blog of Legal Times wrote that Chuang has been deputy general counsel at Homeland Security since 2009, having previously worked in the House committees on Energy and Commerce and Oversight and Government Reform as investigative counsel.

Chuang’s nomination is a milestone for diversity on the bench.  Justice at Stake is currently engaged in a five-year judicial diversity pilot project to build a pipeline for future judges of diverse backgrounds, and to encourage fairness in judicial selection in Maryland and other states.  For more information on this ongoing project, read more here.

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Progress Toward Diversity in Maryland Courts Continues

After naming the first woman to lead the first female majority on the Maryland Supreme Court, Governor Martin O’Malley is once again diversifying the bench.  The appointees for the Baltimore City District Court had initially been recommended to O’Malley by the trial court judicial nominating commission and were announced on Tuesday.  They reflect a commitment to appointing judges who reflect Maryland’s population in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

ABbc2news.com reported on the announcement and quoted Governor O’Malley.  “I am pleased to appoint such an accomplished and diverse group of candidates to serve on the Baltimore City District Court,… These appointees will bring to the bench a broad range of legal expertise and a true commitment to public service.”  The announcement was also reported on in an Afro.com piece, which notes that no date has been set for these judgeships to begin, as each appointee is taking time to make arrangements to finish their current positions.

Justice at Stake is currently engaged in a five-year judicial diversity pilot project to build a pipeline for future judges of diverse backgrounds, and to encourage fairness in judicial selection in Maryland as well as in other states.  Deputy Director for Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives, Liz Fujii spoke about these projects and reactions to progress in other states in this video.

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Maryland: Raising the Bar on Judicial Diversity

Figures published by the Maryland Judiciary show that the number of female judges statewide is on the rise. According to an Associated Press article, 38.2 percent of the state’s judges are female, a rise from the July 2011 figure of 36.1 percent and far above the national average of 27.5 percent.

In 1978, Rita C. Davidson became the first woman ever appointed to the state’s highest court; now, three of the seven members of the Court of Appeals are women.

While the data shows progress, many say there is still room for improvement. “In the practice of law, we’ve come a long way but not far enough,” states Baltimore City Circuit Judge Pamela J. White.

Currently, 41 of the 108 district court judges are female. Judge Marcella Holland, Chair of the Conference Court Judges, calls the three-eighths figure “impressive,” but also recognizes that women make up half the state’s population. “There are still parts of the glass ceiling we haven’t quite tapped,” Holland says.

“Women can’t stop standing up for themselves,” cautions Maryland District Judge Shannon E. Avery. “Times haven’t really changed.” Read more

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In the Case of a Baltimore Judge, Editorial Questions Reappointment

A Washington Post editorial, citing a Maryland judge’s questionable handling of a protective order case, has urged reform of the process for reappointing Baltimore County district judges.

Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin subjected a woman seeking protection from her husband “to blistering questions about her motives and decisions” for 30 minutes, then issued a protective order that he called “nothing more than a piece of paper,” according to the editorial. After the judge’s conduct came to light, a chief judge ordered him to “chambers only” work.

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Women Make History in Taking Oaths for Maryland Judgeships

In historic “firsts,” two women are taking the oath to serve as judges in two Maryland counties.

In Montgomery County, outside Washington, D.C., Assistant State’s Attorney Karla N. Smith will become the first African American female judge appointed to sit on the district court, according to a Washington Post article. For five years, she was head of the family violence division of the prosecutor’s office.

In Washington County, adjoining the border with Pennsylvania, District Judge Dana Moylan Wright took the oath to become the first female Circuit Court judge in the county. “Some of the understanding I have of the litigants in front of me, from a female perspective, can be very helpful” in handling various kinds of cases, Judge Wright said, according to a (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail article.

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • According to a (New Orleans) Times-Picayune article, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that the Louisiana Supreme Court cannot intervene in Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson’s case regarding the court’s next chief justice. Judge Susie Morgan ruled that the Supreme Court “lacks the legal personality required for it to sue, be sued, or intervene in this case.”
  • On Monday, the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee (MDJCCC) released an opinion that judicial candidate Joseph M. Stanalonis violated campaign conduct standards by misleading voters with statements found on campaign flyers, according to a Southern Maryland Online article.
  • Kanawha County (W.Va.) Magistrate Carol Fouty resigned before facing the Judicial Hearing Board this week on charges that she violated the judicial code of conduct. A Charleston Daily Mail editorial states that because she resigned,  the public will know less about Fouty’s conduct and “peculiar” actions while on the bench.
  • On August 13th, the Washington-based Center for American Progress will host a panel titled, “Tipping the Scales: How Big Business Is Taking Over State Courts.” Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz will be the featured panelists discussing the impact of money on state courts. The event will be webcast live here.

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One Black Woman Among Four Nominees for Maryland Bench

A judicial nominating commission has recommended four candidates, including one African-American, for an opening on the Circuit Court bench in Charles County, Md.

Minority residents comprise 51.6 percent of the population in Charles County. The county has one black judge, according to a SoMdNews.com article.

The candidates recommended to Gov. Martin O’Malley for the judgeship are private attorneys Patrick J. Devine and Thomas R. Simpson Jr., Charles County Deputy State’s Attorney Jerome R. Spencer and Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth D. Theobalds. They were selected from a pool of seven people; Theobalds is the lone African-American and lone woman of the four nominees recommended by the panel.

Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it is important to have more African-American judges.  She pointed to racial disparities in the criminal justice system and said she hopes the governor “will recognize the attributes that [Theobalds] would bring to the position and she gets a fair shake at this.”

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Maryland Legislators Busy Responding to Court Rulings

Legislators in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, are going back to the drawing boards in a special session to tackle a number of topics, including getting around a Court of Appeals ruling about pit bulls and liability that has stirred controversy.

According to a Baltimore Sun article, the session will mark at least the fourth time this year that legislators are drafting measures to respond to a ruling by the state’s highest court. There is an age-old “tug of war” between the legislative and judicial branches, and it has intensified with some recent rulings, the article said.

“This is our system,” said Professor Prof. Kathleen Dachille of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. ”We learned it in fifth grade, the checks and the balances, and this is the way it’s supposed to work.”

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, a Democrat and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, suggested the process is working properly, and she hasn’t heard rumblings about tension between the court and legislature.

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On Giving Money to a Judge — Legally

“Most times, if you’re caught handing money to a judge, you go to jail. So does the judge.

“This week, however, you can give money to an incoming county judge, Alison Asti, and it’ll all be nice and legal.”

That’s the in-your-face approach taken to post-election judicial fundraising in Maryland by Eric Hartley in a recent Annapolis Capital blog that is headlined, “Justice, one dollar at a time.”

Asti upended an incumbent who raised almost four times as much as the challenger. So Asti will hold a fundraiser soon in order to recover what she lent her campaign.

“It’s eye-raising for someone who will be a judge to solicit campaign money after an election. But it’s just part of the messy intersection of justice, politics and money,” Hartley writes.

Hartley also questions the appearance of judges hearing cases involving lawyers who contributed to their campaigns, and lawyers endorsing judges in political advertisements. He finishes his commentary by quoting a lawyer who gave to an incumbent and who coordinated critical attacks on Asti’s lack of experience in the courtroom.

Lawyer T. Joseph Touhey said that if a case of his is set before Asti, he will seek her recusal. “I don’t want her trying my cases,” he said.

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5/14/08: All Around the Blogs

ACLU Obtains More Documents Evidencing Torture – Talk Left
The ACLU have found more proof to prove torture took place in Guantanamo. Talk Left has an interesting discussion going on about this, and links the report on their blog.
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