Circuit Court Judges
Circuit Court Judges handle serious criminal cases, major civil cases, including juvenile and other family law cases such as divorce, custody and child support and most cases appealed from the District Court, orphans’ courts and certain administrative agencies. Circuit courts also hear domestic violence cases. Cases may involve juries or sometimes are heard by a judge only.
When there is a vacancy, the Governor appoints a person duly qualified to fill the office. Each Circuit Court judge then must stand for election at the first election that occurs at least one year following the vacancy the judge was appointed to fill. The judge may be opposed formally by one or more qualified members of the bar. The successful candidate is elected to a fifteen-year term. At the expiration of the term, the judge may run again.
The election of circuit court judges is a partisan election. As such, the office appears on the Democratic and Republican primary election ballots. However, a Democratic or Republican candidate may file and appear on both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots.
The candidates who receive the majority of votes in each of the primaries move on to the general election ballot (but their party affiliation will not be specified) and will face any petition candidates or non-principal political party candidates who have received their party's nomination.
Circuit Court Judges have some limitation on campaigning, including: “While entitled to entertain his personal views of political questions, and while not required to surrender his rights or opinions as a citizen, it is inevitable that suspicion of being warped by political bias will attach to a judge who becomes the active promoter of the interests of one political party as against another.” Therefore, judges must take reasonable steps to avoid the appearance that the prestige of their judicial office is being used to advance the interests of a candidate or political organization. In addition, judges cannot comment during a campaign on anything that would imply a bias in making judicial decisions.
Where a candidate wins a majority of votes in both party’s primaries, the general election is not considered contested. The following judicial elections are contested in November:
Carroll County, Circuit 5 – 1 seat, 2 candidates – Democratic and Republican primaries each selected one nominee
Howard County, Circuit 5 – 1 seat, 2 candidates – Democratic and Republican primaries each selected one nominee
Charles County, Circuit 7 – 1 seat, 2 candidates – Democratic and Republican primaries each selected one nominee
Prince George’s County, Circuit 7 – 5 seats, 7 candidates – 3 won nominated in both party’s primaries, Democratic and Republic primaries each selected 2 nominees for the remaining 2 seats