Four make ‘short lists’ for Ce­cil judge­ships

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— Four lo­cal lawyers are now await­ing in­ter­views with Gov. Larry Ho­gan, af­ter ad­vanc­ing to the “short list” in their quests for two open judge­ships in Ce­cil County.

The Dis­trict 2 Trial Courts Ju­di­cial Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mis­sion, which in­cludes sev­eral other Ce­cil County lawyers and of­fi­cials, has se­lected Elk­ton-based lawyer Wil­liam Davis, Jr., Ce­cil County As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Ed­win E. B. Fock­ler

ELK­TON

IV and Ce­cil County State’s At­tor­ney El­lis Rollins III as can­di­dates for an open Ce­cil County Cir­cuit Court judge­ship.

Tha t judge­ship had been held by Judge V. Michael Whe­lan, who re­tired last year af­ter turn­ing 70, which is the manda­tory re­tire­ment age for Mary­land judges.

The names of Davis and Fock­ler also ap­pear on the short list for a va­cant Ce­cil County Dis­trict Court judge­ship, one held by Judge Stephen J. Baker, who opted to re­tire last year at age 60. Elk­ton­based lawyer Clara Camp­bell is the third can­di­date on that short list for the Dis­trict Court judge­ship.

The nom­i­nat­ing com- mis­sion re­ferred those lawyers to the gov­er­nor af­ter a field of six ap­pli­cants un­der­went an i n t e r view process, which also in­volved in­ter­views by the com­mis­sion and var­i­ous bar as­so­ci­a­tions.

Now the gov­er­nor will in­ter­view the four lawyers vy­ing for the two open judge­ships and then will ap­point one to each po­si­tion.

Once ap­pointed, a new cir­cuit court judge must run for elec­tion in the next state elec­tion. If elected in a non-par­ti­san elec­tion, a cir­cuit court judge serves a 15-year term.

On the other hand, a

dis­trict court judge does not have to run in an elec­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing his or her gu­ber­na­to­rial ap­point­ment. In­stead, an ap­pointed dis­trict court judge must be rat­i­fied by the Mary­land Se­nate for 10-year term. Af­ter com­plet­ing a 10-year term, a dis­trict court judge must be reaf­firmed by the Mary­land Se­nate.

Wil­liam Davis Jr. This marks the first bid for a judge­ship by Davis, who had run un­suc­cess­fully against thenS­tate’s At­tor­ney Christo­pher Eastridge in 2006.

Davis, 41, has long been a voice for crim­i­nal de­fen­dants, serv­ing as both a pri­vate de­fense at­tor­ney and a con­tracted panel pub­lic de­fender, since mov­ing to the county 13 years ago.

He ap­plied for both judge­ships, ex­plain­ing that each one is en­tic­ing in its own way.

“What I like about Dis­trict Court is it is the place where most peo­ple their first — and pos­si­bly only — con­tact with the court sys­tem. I am a peo­ple per­son and I want them to walk away with a good ex­pe­ri­ence,” Davis said, qual­i­fy­ing that, re­gard­less of a case’s out­come, he wants that crim­i­nal or civil de­fen­dant and that civil plain­tiff to feel he or she had been heard.

Known for its heavy docket of rel­a­tively short pro­ceed­ings, Dis­trict Court han­dles traf­fic cases, land­lord-ten­ant cases, small claims cases, cer­tain types of civil cases and mis­de­meanor crim­i­nal cases.

“I like the sheer vol­ume of cases. It’s a never-end­ing stream of cases from 8:30 in the morn­ing un­til 4:30 in the af­ter­noon, five days a week,” Davis said.

Cir­cuit Court, on the other hand, han­dles felony crim­i­nal mat­ters, in­clud­ing mur­der cases, and a wide range of civil cases, in­clud- ing ma­jor law­suits and a va­ri­ety of fam­ily court cases. The docket isn’t as face-paced as that in Dis­trict Court.

“I’m drawn to the sheer mag­ni­tude of the cases han­dled in Cir­cuit Court, the sub­ject mat­ter,” Davis said.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Ce­cil County with his fam­ily, Davis spent time es­tab­lish­ing a pri­vate prac­tice that did many types of law, in­clud­ing di­vorce, cus­tody and busi­ness. In 2013, how­ever, he be­gan fo­cus­ing more solely on crim­i­nal de­fense and has rep­re­sented cases as var­ied as speed­ing tick­ets to mur­der.

“It has given me tons of trial ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “It feels like the right time for me to take the next step.”

Ed­win E.B. Fock­ler IV Also vy­ing for both judge­ships is Fock­ler, 51, who comes from a fam­ily of lawyers: his fa­ther, Ed­win B. Fock­ler III, and brother, Karl H. Fock­ler, are well known to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Fock­ler, who grad­u­ated from Wi­dener Uni­ver­sity School of Law in 1999, worked briefly for his fam­ily prac­tice, be­fore set­ting out on his own, han­dling di­vorces, cus­tody dis­pute cases, work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion cases, bank­rupt­cies, con­tract dis­putes, real es­tate set­tle­ments and land­lord/ten­ant dis­putes. Many of the is­sues that he tack­led were built on the foun­da­tion of me­di­at­ing two op­pos­ing sides.

It was in law school that Fock­ler said he be­gan to see the dif­fi­cul­ties in be­ing a crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney, but he was in­trigued by the chal­lenge. When an open­ing in the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice came open in 2009, he ap­plied for it and changed his fo­cus to de­fend­ing those who can­not af­ford a pri­vate de­fense at­tor­ney. Today, Fock­ler rou­tinely han­dles dozens of cases each week of ju­ve­nile and adult de­fen­dants.

“As a pub­lic de­fender, you re­ally be­come part of the le­gal sys­tem,” he said. “Our job is to get them through the process, make sure their rights are up­held and that they get their day in court.”

One of the as­pects of his job that Fock­ler en­joys most is that he can help de­fen­dants be­gin to turn their life around even be­fore they get to a court­room.

“Whether it’s get­ting them into a drug treat­ment pro­gram or en­rolling them into a class, I can be that voice that they lis­ten to,” he said. “I like help­ing peo­ple, but I’m also a big pro­po­nent of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. While we de­fend them as clients, we don’t al­ways ap­prove of their ac­tions.”

To that end, Fock­ler said his ex­pe­ri­ence with de­fen­dants would al­low him to be an im­par­tial judge, who lis­tens and ren­ders a de­ci­sion based upon the facts and tes­ti­mony pre­sented. He also said that he would con­sider all kinds of sen­tences for the guilty, con­sid­er­ing what would be in the best in­ter­est of the pub­lic as well as the per­son be­ing sen­tenced.

El­lis Rollins III Rollins, 60, is seek­ing only the Ce­cil County Cir­cuit Court judge­ship — a po­si­tion held by his late grand­fa­ther, Ed­ward Dorsey El­lis Rollins, Sr., from 1957 to 1969 and then by his late fa­ther, E.D.E. Rollins, Jr., from 1984 to 2002.

Rollins is aware that he would rep­re­sent the third gen­er­a­tion of the Rollins fam­ily on that bench, should he re­ceived the gu­ber­na­to­rial ap­point­ment. But that isn’t his mo­ti­va­tion for vy­ing solely for the Cir­cuit Court judge­ship.

“In Cir­cuit Court, at the end of the day, the is­sues pre­sented are more var­ied and more chal­leng­ing. In Dis­trict Court, you’re limited on the (civil) ac­tions you can bring and the amount you can sue for. Very lit­tle in Dis­trict Court deals with real es­tate,” Rollins said, adding that, as an­other ex­am­ple, felonies are han­dled in Cir­cuit Court while Dis­trict Court is limited to mis­de­meanors.

Rollins em­pha­sized that he wasn’t di­min­ish­ing the job of a Dis­trict Court judge, stress­ing that a Dis­trict Court judge plays an im­por­tant role han­dling heavy dock­ets on a daily ba­sis. How­ever, he qual­i­fied, the “broader spectrum” of cases han­dled at the Cir­cuit Court level ap­peals to him more.

For 30 years, Rollins ran a pri­vate prac­tice that cov­ered nearly ev­ery man­ner of the law from crim­i­nal to fam­ily, es­tate to busi­ness. Then in 2010, he was elected to his first term as Ce­cil County State’s At­tor­ney, where he has been re-elected since.

It’s well known that Rollins wants to be a Cir­cuit Court judge. This marks his third at­tempt at the job, af­ter a los­ing bid to Whe­lan in 2010 and to Judge Jane Cairns Mur­ray in 2011. Rollins, who is a Repub­li­can, hopes this third at­tempt will prove to be the charm. He noted that for­mer Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley — a Demo­crat — had in­ter­viewed him the last two times he had made the short list.

Not­ing that Gov. Ho­gan is a Repub­li­can, Rollins com­mented, “From a po­lit­i­cal stand­point, it’s not quite as much of a draw­back this time. Plus, what I bring to ta­ble is strong on the civil side of things and, as the state’s at­tor­ney, is also strong on the crim­i­nal side.”

Clara Camp­bell Clara Camp­bell, who has been prac­tic­ing law in the county for nearly 30 years, ap­plied only for the open Dis­trict Court judge­ship out of def­er­ence to Rollins.

“I did it out of re­spect. A lot of peo­ple think El­lis thinks he should get it (Cir­cuit Court) judge­ship be­cause his grand­fa­ther and fa­ther were Cir­cuit Court judges. But that’s not the case. El­lis has more years of ex­pe­ri­ence than any­one in the run­ning for the cir­cuit court seat and he’s had the most var­ied ex­pe­ri­ence in the law of any­one. As far as I’m con­cerned, if El­lis is vy­ing for that po­si­tion, he should have it,” she said.

Camp­bell mar­veled over how Rollins, with less than three years of le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence, took over his fa­ther’s law prac­tice in 1983 and built it into an even busier and more suc­cess­ful firm.

But her re­spect for Rollins that does not mean a Dis­trict Court judge­ship equates to Camp­bell’s sec­ond choice.

“I have a wide range of le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence that would help me as a Dis­trict Court judge,” Camp­bell said, list­ing drunken driv­ing, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, land­lord-ten­ant, or­di­nance en­force­ment and crim­i­nal as some of the ar­eas in which she has prac­ticed. “I’d be very happy serv­ing in dis­trict court. I think I have a lot to bring to it.”

Camp­bell re­ferred to the high vol­ume of cases heard daily by a Dis­trict Court judge and com­mented, “I would have no prob­lem mov­ing a docket. And I can learn any­thing I need to learn.”

An­swer­ing why she seeks the bench, Camp­bell ex­plained, “I’m look­ing for the next step in my ca­reer. I want to change gears. I feel I al­ready have achieved my goals for my law prac­tice.”

A North East-area na­tive who now lives in Ce­cil­ton, Camp­bell, 55, started out as a Ce­cil County Cir­cuit Court law clerk, serv­ing un­der the late judges Don­ald­son Cole Jr. and E.D.E. Rollins Jr. Af­ter pass­ing the bar in 1987, Camp­bell worked with sev­eral other Elk­ton­based lawyers.

In 2012, Camp­bell ex­panded her own prac­tice lo­cated at 190 E. Main St. It is the largest law of­fice in Elk­ton, with four other lawyers on staff that prac­tice nearly all man­ners of law, from mu­nic­i­pal to fam­ily, traf­fic to crim­i­nal, and wills and es­tates. She also serves as le­gal coun­sel to the county’s plan­ning com­mis­sion, board of ap­peals, depart­ment of per­mit­ting and in­spec­tions, and depart­ment of plan­ning and zon­ing.

This marks Camp­bell’s sec­ond bid for a judge­ship. She made the short list in 2013, when the gu­ber­na­to­rial ap­point­ment for the newly cre­ated fourth Cir­cuit Court judge­ship went to Brenda Sex­ton, who went on to win a 15-year term in the next elec­tion.

CAMP­BELL

FOCK­LER

DAVIS

ROLLINS

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