Davis, Campbell to fill judge openings
— Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed William W. Davis, Jr., to a vacant Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship and Clara Eva Campbell to an open Cecil County District Court judgeship on Friday, just two days after conducting the judicial candidate interviews in Elkton, the governor’s office announced late Friday morning.
The circuit court appointment gives Davis the distinction of being the first black Cecil County judge. The district court appointment, meanwhile, makes Campbell the fourth woman appointed to the local bench.
Campbell’s appointment also further skews the gender balance of the six sitting Cecil County judges, as only two of them are men. Both Cecil County District Court judges will be women: Campbell and Bonnie Schneider, who, with her appointment in August 2008, holds the distinction of being the first female Cecil County judge.
“After conducting a thorough vetting process, I am confident that Mr. Davis and Ms. Campbell are the most qualified candidates to fill these vacancies,” Hogan said. “Their legal experience and expertise has prepared
them to be strong advocates for the law and for the people of Cecil County. I offer my sincere congratulations and best wishes.”
A private defense attorney and a contracted panel public defender for the past 13 years, Davis, 41, was at work in a district courtroom about 9:30 a.m. Friday when, unbeknownst to him, Gov. Hogan called his cellphone.
Hogan then called Davis’ office and reached his assistant, who, in turn, texted Davis and instructed him to call the governor.
“I was in the courtroom representing a client, so I wasn’t able to take the call,” Davis recalled.
After that proceeding ended, Davis, who wasn’t sure if good or bad news would be coming from the governor, stepped outside the courtroom and called the number that had been texted to him – only to get a recorded message.
“I got the answering machine. I was already tense and excited, all at the same time,” Davis said.
A few minutes later, Davis’ cellphone rang and the gov- ernor was on the line.
“He congratulated me,” Davis said. “I invited him to attend my investiture, and he said would come if he was able.”
Then, after thanking the governor and saying goodbye, Davis focused on his job at hand.
“This afternoon, I’m going right back into court, taking care of my clients,” Davis said.
Regarding the noteworthiness of him being Cecil County’s first black judge, Davis opined that “it’s important” to make that distinction.
But then he quickly placed that distinction into proper context, commenting, “I believe I am qualified to be a judge, and I just happen to be black.”
Campbell, 55, was at her Cecilton home when her phone rang about 9:45 a.m. Friday.
“The governor said I’m appointing you to be the next district court judge, and I thanked him,” Campbell said, adding, “It’s a great feeling.”
Campbell marveled over how fast the governor made the two Cecil County judicial appointments. Hogan had interviewed Campbell and two other judicial finalists individually inside a third-floor conference room at the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse on Wednesday, the first of two days that the governor spent touring the county. It was unprecedented because, in the past, governors conducted judicial candidate interviews at the State House in Annapolis.
“This is the quickest judicial appointment I’ve ever seen,” Campbell said, adding, “It shows the governor is all about taking care of this state.”
The governor passed over the remaining “short list” candidate, E.B. Fockler IV, an assistant public defender, who, like Davis, had applied for both open judgeships and emerged as a finalist for them.
Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins III also had made the “short list” after going through the nominations process but on June 30 – five days before the scheduled gubernatorial interviews – he withdrew his name amid a scandal. Davis ultimately was appointed to the circuit court judgeship that Rollins had sought.
Rollins was arrested on June 22 in Ocean City while attending a Maryland prosecutors convention, after he allegedly was spotted nude on his hotel balcony. Then on June 27, Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby charged Rollins with two counts each of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct in connection with the incident.
Many in the legal community considered Rollins a frontrunner for the circuit court seat, including Campbell who praised Rollins’ legal experience in a Whig interview more than a month ago.
As a consequence of his withdrawal from the “short list,” Rollins likely missed out on his best chance to sit on the circuit court bench, as both his grandfather and father had done. At age 60, Rollins only has 10 more years of eligibility to serve in a judgeship before the mandatory state retirement age of 70, and the majority of the county’s judges are younger than he is.
In an interview with an Eastern Shore TV station prior to Rollins’ withdrawal, Hogan said he would “probably not” appoint the state’s attorney to the position due to the scandal.
Hogan appointed Davis to a judgeship that opened in January, when V. Michael Whelan retired after turning 70, which is the age of mandatory retirement for Maryland judges. Whelan, who received his gubernatorial appointment to that circuit judgeship in June 2010 and then retained the position in the next election, now sits as a retired circuit court judge.
After he takes his oath as judge – a date had not been set, as of Friday afternoon – Davis must run in the next election against all challengers, if any, to retain the judgeship. If elected, Davis would serve a 15-year term as circuit court judge.
The governor appointed Campbell to a district court judgeship that opened in October when Stephen J. Baker, 60, retired. Baker, who received his gubernatorial appointment in May 2007, still presides as a retired district court judge.
Campbell will serve a 10year term as district court judge. District Court judges must be reaffirmed by the Maryland Senate every 10 years.
A North East-area native, Campbell, 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 Elkton-based 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, including municipal, family, traffic, 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.
Campbell had made one other bid for a judgeship, making 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.