An associate of a powerful former state lawmaker is one of three new Circuit Court judges nominated by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Thursday.
Hogan announced that he is nominating Erik Atas for a judgeship on the Baltimore City Circuit Court. Atas is the head of the criminal defense department at Zirkin & Schmerling Law, a firm helmed by former state Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County). Until the beginning of this year, Zirkin ― one of the Republican governor’s closest Democratic allies in the legislature ― was chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
In addition to Atas, Hogan on Thursday nominated Myshala Middleton for the Baltimore City Circuit Court and Karen Dean for Wicomico County Circuit Court.
“The appointment of these qualified individuals to serve across our state’s justice system is paramount to upholding our responsibilities to the people of Maryland and the rule of law,” Hogan said in a statement. “I have every confidence that Mr. Atas, Ms. Middleton, and Ms. Dean will continue to be strong advocates for the law and will serve the citizens of Maryland honorably.”
Atas has worked Zirkin & Schmerling Law since 2013, and while he heads the criminal defense practice, he also handles personal injury cases, protection orders and peace orders, and administrative hearings before the Motor Vehicle Administration. His pro bono work includes working with nonprofit drug treatment programs and women’s shelters to help people expunge their criminal records.
Prior to joining Zirkin & Schmerling Law, Atas worked as a public defender in Baltimore City for six years. He received his B.A. from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Zirkin, who spent 21 years in the General Assembly, recently registered to become a State House lobbyist in addition to his legal work.
Middleton has served as an assistant chief counsel in the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, since 2018. In this role, she litigates removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Prior to this position, she worked as an assistant attorney general in the Contract Litigation Unit, as well as in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
She also served as an assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore City for six years, and served as a law clerk for Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart Mays from 2010 to 2011.
She received her B.A. in anthropology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and her J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Dean has been a prosecutor with the Worcester County State’s Attorney Office for nearly two years. She is currently assigned to the Circuit Court Division, handling primarily juvenile, child abuse, and sexual assault cases. Dean previously served as deputy state’s attorney for Somerset County and senior assistant state’s attorney for Wicomico County.
In 2011, she was appointed as a magistrate in Wicomico County, a position she eventually vacated to return to prosecution. From 2001 to 2007, Dean was an active member of the Mount Vernon Fire Department, where she was an EMT and a firefighter.
She received her B.S. from the University of Delaware and her J.D. and Master of Studies in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School.