Philip Foster runs for Talbot Orphans’ Court
EASTON — Philip Carey Foster is the only attorney running for a seat on the Talbot County Orphans’ Court, and that means he has a skill set that is uniquely valuable, he said in an interview early last week.
“First of all, the big mystery is, what is the Orphans’ Court?” he said. “I get asked that everywhere I go.”
The Orphans’ Court in Maryland is a probate court that presides over the administration of estates.
In Talbot, three judges sit on the court and listen to cases that could involve wills or lack of wills, personal representatives, relatives, and other details that may need to be considered after someone dies.
The term “orphans’ court” is an ancient one, and refers to courts created in England to take care of widows and children after a death, Foster said.
Foster is one of five candidates on the ballot which includes businessmen and retired clergy.
He is a graduate of Easton High School who attended Wooster College in Ohio, then law school at Vanderbilt University.
He got out of school just as the Vietnam War ended, but spent a few years stateside in the Army, being discharged as a captain. After law school, he worked at the U.S. Department of the Interior for a while, then came back home to the Eastern Shore.
In Talbot, he worked his way up in the state’s attorney’s office, moving from assistant state’s attorney to deputy state’s attorney, then state’s attorney over the course of 15 years.
“I thought I had dealt with some pretty raw human emotions, but then I started probating wills,” he said. “Sometimes the emotions that accompany that can be surprisingly intense.”
“It’s a vulnerable time for people and sometimes within families there are ancient mistrusts from childhood that surface,” he said.
“I’m a trained mediator,” Foster said. “And I think one of the things the Orphans’ Court has tried to do very successfully over the years is to mediate with the family to the extent that they can and explain what’s happening.”
He said in a regular courtroom the cases move so quickly that sometimes those involved aren’t really sure what has happened. People leave, he said, sometimes very confused.
“But with the Orphans’ Court I think there’s that extra step, that, okay, once you’ve made your decision, tr ying to explain it to the parties,” he said. “I’m not saying that ever ybody will leave happy, but you’ve got to try.”
Along with his years in the State’s Attorney’s Office, Foster has represented the Mid-Shore in the Maryland House of Delegates (1989-1991) and served on the Talbot County Council for 12 years (1998-2010). Three of those years he was president and three years he was vice president.
He has taught criminal law, constitutional law, legal procedure and business law as an adjunct faculty member at Chesapeake College.
Through it all, he was allowed to continue his work as a general practice lawyer which means he has represented clients for a wide variety of reasons. He said when he was younger, the cases tended to be in litigation, criminal, domestic, lawsuits and the like. In more recent years he has worked more preparing wills and with estates.
“Talbot County has the fifth highest number of high-value estates in the state,” he said. “You’ve got Montgomery, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Prince George’s County — the next is Talbot. It’s not Howard, it’s not Anne Arundel.”
“These are the estates where you are going to have a lot of money involved, a lot of issues at stake, people hiring lawyers on each side to fight over whether the will should be accepted or not accepted,” he said. He named a host of other issues that are typical in the settling of a large estate.
Foster feels to have one attorney on the court will be very helpful in terms of researching cases, legal terminology, what a citation is and the conducting of hearings.
“I think there are other skills that are helpful on the Orphans’ Court and I don’t dismiss them at all,” he said. “The combination of my legal training and the others from other walks of life will create a better Orphans’ Court and produce better decisions.”
Foster has a long history of community ser vice in Talbot County. His memberships include the Elks, St. Andrews Society, American Legion, Talbot County Historical Society, 38 years in Rotary and he has been on the boards of local United Fund, Talbot County Mental Health and Drug Abuse Council, Board of Visitors of Kanuga Conferences, Easton Heart Drive Fund, and the list goes on and on.
One of the activities he has enjoyed most is serving as a soccer coach.
Foster said they did not have soccer at Easton High School when he was a student, so when he was asked to coach, he had to learn it all from scratch.
He ended up coaching soccer for 27 years, including for middle school students, at Colonel Richardson High School, Sts. Peter and Paul, Gunston and others. He was the first president of the Talbot Youth Soccer League.
“I love government. I love service,” he said. “And thats really what my life is about, it’s public service. So you ask what I do — that’s what I do.”
“Other people garden, do woodcarving. I really admire people who have those skills,” Foster said. “But for me, my satisfaction comes out of public service.”
Voters have their choice of three out of five candidates for Orphans’ Court on the Talbot County ballot, including Foster, incumbents Paul Carroll and Will Howard, David Wheeler and Joel Marcus Johnson.
Even though candidates are listed on the ballot as Republican and Democrat, Foster says that is a traditional designation that has come down through the years, and is really meaningless, since there is no partisan aspect to the Orphans’ Court.
“You’ve got to look at your duties and your responsibilities and be fair and be just,” he said. “And that’s what I would strive to do. It’s a philosophy of judging. Its not a platform.”
“A place that I could be of ser vice is the Orphans’ Court because I think I could bring the legal training piece to the group,” he said. “And they will be bringing things as well. I don’t have an exclusive contribution, I have a unique one.
“And if the voters see fit to entrust me to this office then I am going to execute it conscientiously just as I always have,” Foster said.
Early voting continues at the Easton Fire Hall, 315 Aurora Park Drive, through Thursday, November 1 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
PHILIP CAREY FOSTER