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May 13, 2014

Here Comes da Judge

Harry M. Covert

A little known political campaign is under way in Frederick County. The winner receives a guaranteed 15-year term. The race truly benefits one and all. Without a doubt, the campaigning is dignified and honorable. It should be.


All other campaigns are rather important as the future direction of the county is at stake. Regardless, though, electing judges to the Circuit Court is not a cheap affair, or a competition that panders to any partisanship and should not in any way shape or form be undignified.


Danny B. O’Connor, the sitting Frederick County Circuit Court judge, is seeking confirmation of his January gubernatorial appointment to the high bench.


Scott L. Rolle, Esquire, a three-term State’s Attorney for the county, is also seeking the bench. He served from 1995 to 2007.


Without knowing either personally, both are well-versed in the law and enjoy distinguished legal careers. This is where voters have good choices. Their names on the ballots in the June primary will not mention either’s political party.


Judge O’Connor probably has the edge. He was appointed by the present governor from a selection of five chosen from the county. He began his court work January 3.


Mr. Rolle has distinguished himself as a criminal defense attorney. He is an actor on several History and Lifetime Channels programs and is an Army Reserve major.


Covering the courts over the years has been a favorite. It began long before the 60s Laugh-in shows and the “Here come da judge” routines. Every jurist from that period to the present has had to endure, and learn to do so, the interminable laughs from friends, neighbors and those in courtrooms.


The business of hearing criminal and civil cases is a tough one. The business of law and order stops at the judicial bench. Court work is not a joking matter. Attending law school, studying all areas of law, then passing the bar examinations is not simple. In fact, the latter is tough and demanding.


In this modern age, more men and women attend law schools. Few enroll in night law schools, or just “read the law,” to qualify for the bar exam. It is an achievement. I am aware of numerous attorneys and several judges who have photographic memories. On the whole, though, the law requires heavy study, memorization, and deep study. And, by the way, common sense.


Once listening to a federal court criminal case, the judge didn’t appear to be taking notes or paying attention. The case before her involved possible life sentences. The defense attorney re-emphasized several points at which “Her Honor” recalled verbatim that she had corrected him the previous day.


At the end of the trial, the judge detailed the case point-by-point, without notes. The transcript was exactly as the judge recalled.


In state or federal courts, judges do “walk softly,” but “carry big sticks.”


Appointment to the bench is a vigorous selection process. Those chosen are investigated to every imaginable facet of their lives. This “vetting process” reaches into everything a candidate has written, uttered and raised families, even more.


I have met and worked with many in the judiciary over the years.


Once, during a juvenile court hearing, a judge allowed me – as a reporter – to sit in on a case. The defense lawyer objected to high heaven, even casting aspersions that the court would permit a “newspaperman” in his court.


The judge insisted and persisted. I remained in the court and despite objections, the lawyer, the judge and reporter later went to dinner. The lawyer paid.


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