Ballot returns showed that in Howard County, lawyer Quincy Coleman bested sitting Judge John Kuchno, capturing 81,970 votes, or 53 percent, compared with 72,055 votes, or 47 percent, according to the vote totals. Kuchno had been appointed to the bench by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Returns in Charles County showed that lawyer Makeba Gibbs defeated sitting Judge Patrick Devine, also nominated by Hogan. She collected 50,200 votes, or 58 percent, compared with 35,591 votes for Devine, according to final results.
“I think this could be a new day in the judiciary,” Gibbs said. “People were excited to know that they had a say in who their judges are.”
In a larger race in Prince George’s County, challengers Gladys Weatherspoon and April Ademiluyi garnered enough votes to unseat one sitting judge, Jared M. McCarthy, according to final vote totals posted Friday night.
The roughly 170 circuit court judges throughout Maryland play an enormous role in people’s lives. They preside over felony criminal trials and impose sentences. They sit over complex civil litigation. They make rulings in divorce and child custody proceedings.
The state has long used a hybrid appointment-and-voting method to try to strike a balance between over-politicizing the seats and giving voters some say in who gets selected.
When judge openings occur, standing “judicial nominating commissions” around the state vet interested parties and send a list of finalists to the governor, who then makes the final pick to fill the slots.
These judges then have to face voters during the first election that comes up after their appointment. Typically, they run unopposed. When they win, they get a 15-year term before they have to be elected again.
In Montgomery County, the largest jurisdiction by population in the state, four previously appointed judges stood for election: David Boynton, who completed a 15-year term after being nominated in 2003, and three judges up for their first vote after being nominated recently by Hogan — Bibi Berry, Michael McAuliffe and Christopher Fogleman.
They were on the ballot with one challenger who had not served as a judge before, Marylin Pierre.
Voters were asked to select up to four of the five candidates. Preliminary tallies showed the four existing judges finishing in the top slots.
“We are very grateful to the voters, and we will be worthy of the trust they have put in us,” McAuliffe said.
Pierre, a local attorney, was trying to break into the Montgomery circuit court judges group as an outsider. Among the issues she stressed in her campaign was her view that young Black men in Maryland received excessively long sentences. “It’s just unacceptable and untenable and immoral.”
“I may not have received the vote I wanted, but the issues I wanted discussed are now being discussed,” she said.
Before this year’s election, Pierre had applied multiple times to Montgomery’s judicial nominating commission and was turned away each time.
Montgomery County officials were still counting their final mail-in and provisional ballets as of Friday, officials said. Records showed that fewer than 29,000 of more than 527,000 ballots were left to be counted.
Online county records showed that Pierre trailed the four sitting judges by more 75,000 votes or more.
In neighboring Prince George’s County, outside candidates fared far better.
Weatherspoon secured the most votes in the county’s circuit judge race, according to vote totals. The longtime defense attorney said she hadn’t sought a judgeship before because local political veterans told her she couldn’t be selected since she had no experience as a prosecutor.
Weatherspoon campaigned on the belief that judges need to treat all people before them — including criminal defendants — with dignity and respect. She vowed to push for creative sentences instead of incarceration for minor offenses, which she sees as a national need.
“We just, as a country, have a lot to do,” she said.
When she started her campaign, Weatherspoon said, many people told her she couldn’t win.
“I feel blessed and humbled and overwhelmed to be the one with the most votes,” she said.
A second outside challenger, Ademiluyi, collected enough votes to also secure a spot on the bench.
The race had been complicated by the fact that between the primary and general election, one of the incumbent judges dropped out of the race. In the end, there were six candidates — four incumbents and the two outsiders — on the ballot. Voters were asked to choose up to five names for five slots.
Following Weatherspoon in the top five, according to results, were incumbent circuit court judges Wytonja Curry, ShaRon Grayson Kelsey and Cathy Serrette. Ademiluyi picked up the final and fifth spot. Losing his seat, according to the vote totals, was McCarthy.
“I’m just ready to get to work,” said Ademiluyi, noting how the pandemic is taxing the court system.
“You have a lot of people who are unemployed and struggling,” she said.
That can lead to more foreclosures, collection actions and spur people into crime. “Covid-19 has impaired life at every turn,” she said.
She campaigned on the promise to bring equity to legal proceedings. “Not allowing wealth and status to control the courtroom” is how she put it on the campaign trail.
In Howard County, incumbent judge Kuchno said he greatly appreciated his time on the bench. “It’s a great honor to be a judge, just a tremendous honor,” he said.
He had previously served as a lawyer in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. The challenger who bested him in the race, Coleman, could not be reached for comment.
In Charles County, winning challenger Gibbs said that when she first started practicing as a defense attorney in the county, she was struck by how her clients noticed differences among judges. “What judge do I have?” they’d ask.
Such discrepancies shouldn’t be so pronounced, she said. Gibbs also aims to start specialized court programs for those charged with crimes who suffer from mental illness or substance addictions.
Incumbent judge Devine said he would miss his position as a judge. “I love this job,” he said. “It’s a great job.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the first name of Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Wytonja Curry.