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Why is the Baltimore County Sitting Judges Race Controversial?

Updated: Apr 22

Of all the primary races taking place in Baltimore County how is it that the Sitting Judges Race is so controversial? Surely as you drive around Baltimore County you have seen the “slate” lawn signs for the 2024 Baltimore County Circuit Court everywhere.


Sitting Circuit Court Judge Barranco, Judge DeMaio, Judge DeSimone and Judge Rhodes with campaign signs for 2024 primary race.


You may ask yourself, why are judges running for office? How do they have so much money to post signs everywhere? Are there others who are running for this position?


Let’s delve into the basics, to ascend to the esteemed role of Circuit Court Judge, there are two avenues to success. The first route demands attorneys navigate a labyrinthine of questionnaires, furnishing copious details about their professional trajectory. Moreover, their personal histories undergo intense scrutiny, gauging their steadfastness to the legal vocation. The applications go to numerous state and local bar associations who vet and provide a list of candidates to the Governor’s office. For example, Judge Michael Barranco has served on many Maryland State Bar Association Committees and is active in continuing education of lawyers. His resume reads with perfection to become a Circuit Court Judge.


However, the circuit court judges, appointed through political channels, are mandated to run for their seat in the subsequent election cycle to secure their tenure for 16 years. Therefore, each of the four “slated” candidates were appointed within the last two years and must run to keep their seat.


The second option to become a judge is to simply sign up to be a candidate for the Circuit Court Judge through the Maryland State Board of Elections. Candidates signing up through this system would be considered “outsiders” having sidestepped the political machinations requisite for appointment. Herein lies the crux of the controversy in Baltimore County's Circuit Court Judge race.

This link takes you to the list of Judicial Circuit Court Baltimore County (Judicial Circuit 3) candidates running in the upcoming primary elections. https://elections.maryland.gov/elections/2024/Primary_candidates/gen_cand_lists_2024_4.html

 

April 16, during a gathering of the Central Baltimore County Republican Club, President Maria Zickuhr extended invitations not only to the four "slated" candidates but also to the "outsider" candidate Rob Daniels to address the club members.


Mrs. Zickuhr curated a series of questions for the incumbent judges, delving into such as Judge Patricia DeMaio’s work in Baltimore City and her association with States Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Judge DeMaio said she was anxious to answer that question and elucidated her stance citing it as the impetus behind her departure from the Baltimore City post.


2015 Patricia DeMaio with States Attorney Marilyn Mosby on the Freddie Gray Case


Further queries surfaced, each tailored to probe the experiences of the sitting judges – victories, defeats, and lessons learned. Particularly intriguing was Judge Marc DeSimone’s narrative, characterized by a tenure at the Office of the Public Defender, navigating the intricacies of the state's defendants. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Judge DeSimone gives back to the community serving on the board of directors of Unified Community Connections and has been recognized as Volunteer of the Year by United Cerebral Palsy of Central Maryland.

Judge Rhodes, too, fielded inquiries about a previous legal entanglement, offering a candid elucidation of the ordeal he and his son endured. Judge James Rhodes was cleared of any wrongdoing and the case is closed.


Sparks flew in the room when Candidate Rob Daniels was asked to speak. See the mail piece distributed by the Judges Barranco, DeMaio, DeSimone and Rhodes delving into the bankruptcy allegations leveled against Candidate Rob Daniels which occurred in 2008. Mr. Daniels was given the opportunity to defend himself regarding the bankruptcy allegations.                                                        

This is the mail piece distributed by Judges Barranco, DeMaio, DeSimone and Rhodes.




In his response, one may wonder if Rob Daniels may be the perfect judge as he understands how market downturns can financially ruin a family. The cause of his filing for bankruptcy in 2009 was his struggle to pay the mortgage for both his own home and that of his parents. The family was caught in the real estate downturn, Mr. Daniels tried his best to save his home as well as that of his parents. This explains the first and second foreclosure mentioned in the mail piece. Mr. Daniels claimed the tax lien company was fabricated information.


Intriguingly, the revelation of a $300,000 campaign fund held by the "slate" of judges raises eyebrows. This is a fund that is passed down from Sitting Circuit Court Judges races to the next “slate” of candidates. The funds are primarily bankrolled by law firms keen on fostering amicable relations with the judiciary. Does this not scream CONFLICT of INTEREST?


This system is obviously flawed and in need of reform, requiring judges to raise sums of money from the lawyers who will appear before them in court. Indeed, the “outsider” never stands a chance to compete against that sum of money. Yet this is what happens every time circuit judges run for their appointed seats. Read more here:

 

In conclusion, the Baltimore County Sitting Judges Race stands as a microcosm of the broader challenges entrenched within the judicial selection process. The controversy swirling around this race underscores the need for systemic reform, as the current framework perpetuates inequities and fosters potential conflicts of interest. As voters, stakeholders, and concerned citizens, it is imperative to scrutinize and advocate for changes that uphold the integrity and impartiality of our judiciary. Only through concerted efforts to address these shortcomings can we ensure a fair and transparent electoral landscape, where justice truly prevails.



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