This is a major election year for the City of Baltimore. The City has been in the national spotlight over the past year, after the untimely death of Freddie Gray and the City’s uprising. On April 26th , Baltimore voters will be electing a new mayor. The mayoral race has drawn much attention with eighteen (18) candidates vying for the City’s top office. However, less attention and coverage is being given to the judicial race taking place in Baltimore City. The City’s contested judicial election for Baltimore City Circuit Court is just as important, if not more important.
Judicial elections are the means by which voters elect judges to the Baltimore City Circuit Court. The judges elected serve 15-year terms on the bench and hear several types of legal matters. Under the Maryland Constitution, judicial candidates must:
- Be a U.S. and Maryland Citizen
- Be a qualified and registered voter
- Be a Maryland resident for at least five(5) years
- Be a resident of Baltimore City for at least six (6) months immediately preceding the election
- Be at least thirty (30) years old, but less than seventy (70)
- Be a member of the Maryland State Bar Association; and
- Be “most distinguished for integrity, wisdom, and sound legal knowledge” to run for office.
Md. Constitution, Art. I, sec. 12 and Art. IV, sections 2,3,5A(f) and 41D.
There are six(6) Circuit Court judges who are seeking to retain their seats on the bench. The current sitting judges seeking to retain their judgeships are: Shannon Avery, Audrey Carrion, Michael DiPietro, Karen Friedman, Wanda Keyes Heard, and Cynthia Jones. In this year’s contested race, two challengers are seeking to become circuit court judges also. The challengers are: former Baltimore City Councilman James “Jim” Kraft, and former public defender, Todd Oppenheim.
This judicial race matters because:
- Circuit Court judges hear many complex legal matters, including:
- child support,
- child custody,
- domestic violence,
- jury trials (In Maryland, jury trials can ONLY be requested in circuit court).
- violation of probation issues,
- felony and misdemeanor issues, and
- business legal matters and other civil matters.
- It is more likely that a Baltimore resident will likely encounter or be impacted by the actions of a Baltimore City Court Judge over the next 15 years than any other elected official, because the judges serve 15- year terms after being elected.
- Judges interpret the law, make evidentiary rulings based upon the evidence presented, and are often called to make rulings on legal matters that impact the lives of Baltimore residents on a daily basis.
- Judges are triers of fact in bench trials, meaning that judges are called upon to assess the facts and law and to issue rulings impartially based upon what is presented to them. A bench trial is one without a jury that requires the judge to make a ruling on a particular legal matter.
- Again, the Circuit Court judges that will be elected in this year’s election will be on the bench for the next 15 YEARS.