Four make ‘short lists’ for Cecil judgeships
— 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
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.