The Sitting Judges Principle

This Principle has proven to be a tried and reliable way of insuring that only the most highly qualified lawyers are selected to serve as judges in our Circuit Court.  The Constitution of Maryland demands that our judges be lawyers “most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge.”  For more than 40 years, this Principle has helped to ensure that our judges meet the highest standards, while promoting an independent judiciary comprised of individuals who have subjected themselves to rigorous scrutiny and examination by peers, community members and ultimately, the Governor.

For more than 40 years, this Principle has helped to ensure that our judges meet the highest standards

To help remove the judiciary from an overtly political process, judges are appointed to the trial and appellate courts from a pool of applicants who have proven that they meet the constitutional requirements after being subject to a detailed and vigorous screening process by judicial commissions made up of both lawyers and non-lawyers. The Governor, by Executive Order, appoints judges to the bench from lists of qualified nominees submitted by trial and appellate court nominating commissions. These judges serve from the date they take the oath of office until the first election that occurs at least one year from the date of the vacancy they filled.  If elected, the judges then serve a 15-year term of office.

The procedure for appointment and subsequent election (the Sitting Judge Principle) affords the legal community and the public at large the opportunity to observe the conduct of these highly qualified judges during the actual performance of their judicial duties.  Therefore, Sitting Judges run for office on the basis of their records and may be elected based upon their individual qualifications, experience and competence.  Because the elections are non-partisan, Sitting Judges cross-file on both party’s ballots, without any designation of party affiliation or status as a Sitting Judge.  You should know that the “Sitting Judge Principle” has been endorsed by both Democratic and Republican officials, as well as by the Bar Association of Prince George’s County and the Maryland State Bar Association.

Most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge.

By comparison to Sitting Judges, candidates for the Circuit Court who choose to bypass the judicial nominating commission process have not been subject to the very detailed and vigorous investigation required for appointment to the Court. There is a very real danger that a well-financed candidate or one whose surname happens to appear early in the alphabetic listing of candidates could win election without any reasonable correlation between his or her attributes and irrespective of whether the challenger is possessed of the qualities that Sitting Judges have demonstrated, “most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge.”

It is vital that concerned members of the legal community assist in the effort.  Because judicial races do not garner attention like more celebrated and visible races for elected office, members of the Bar may be among the most knowledgeable about the Principle and the need for an independent judiciary.  As such, members of the Bar must contribute to the campaign to educate the public of the value of the Sitting Judge Principle.