Del. Dumais Appointed Montgomery County Judge by Gov. Hogan

Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), vice chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, was appointed as a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Change continues apace in the House of Delegates, after a committee leader was appointed to the Montgomery County Circuit Court bench on Tuesday morning.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Tuesday that he has appointed Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), vice chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, to one of four vacancies on the county’s circuit court bench.

Three other lawyers were also appointed: current District Court Judge Carlos Federico Acosta, Montgomery County Deputy Public Defender Theresa Chernosky, and civil litigator Rachel McGuckian.

“It is my pleasure to appoint these distinguished individuals to serve in our state’s judicial system,” Hogan said in a statement. “Montgomery County’s Circuit Court is gaining an immensely talented and principled group of judges who will honorably serve the citizens of Maryland in the years to come.”

Dumais’ appointment is the latest in a series of potentially transformative changes in the House of Delegates. Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), the chair of Economic Matters, has announced his intention to apply for state treasurer, following the retirement announcement of long-time Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D). He is considered the overwhelming favorite to fill the post.

Last week, Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery) announced that she is stepping down as chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, though she plans to serve at the remainder of her term. She cast doubt on her reelection plans for 2022, however.

Dumais, who is 63, was elected to the House in 2002 and has also served as majority leader and as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. She previously told Maryland Matters one of the reasons she decided to apply for a judgeship now is the knowledge that the judicial retirement age in Maryland is 70, meaning she won’t have too many more opportunities to serve.

In an interview, Dumais said she also was inspired by a recent article by retired Circuit Court Judge Gary E. Bair, who encouraged qualified attorneys to apply for judicial vacancies. Bair wrote that contested elections of appointed Circuit Court judges could dissuade qualified candidates.

“Every year the state bar association and the judiciary lobby for a change in the Maryland Constitution that mandates contested circuit court elections, but there never seems to be a consensus on the issue to motivate the General Assembly to do anything about it,” Bair wrote in the county bar association’s monthly newsletter.

Dumais has sponsored heavily-debated legislation in recent years that calls for a constitutional amendment to allow Circuit Court judges to be appointed with Senate confirmation and then run in retention elections, rather than in wide-open scrums.

She said Tuesday evening that she believes colleagues will take up the cause and introduce the same or similar legislation in 2022.

She noted that the four lawyers appointed to the bench on Tuesday are already facing a challenger, Marylin Pierre, who has appeared with supporters at county events including the recent Poolesville Day parade.

Since 2002, when Dumais first ran for the House of Delegates, there have been contested judicial elections in the county five times. Sitting judges have prevailed each time, though in three of the elections, a challenger earned enough votes in the primary to continue campaigning into November. That’s a big electoral burden on judicial appointees who are also getting settled in new jobs, Dumais said.

When Dumais officially resigns from the House, it will kick off a succession process that includes the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee nominating a candidate to fill that vacancy, with Hogan having the final say on an appointment.

Linda Foley, chair of the central committee and a veteran labor activist, said she plans to apply for the position. Former Del. Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery), who represented the adjacent District 39 in the House from 2007 to 2011, is running for the District 15 seat and may put in for the vacancy as well. Last month, leaders of the Muslim Council of Montgomery County wrote to the central committee calling Ali “highly qualified” and urging his appointment.

Dumais said Tuesday that she will formally resign from the General Assembly within the next few weeks.

“I’m very excited and looking forward to the challenge and this next chapter,” she said. “…It is somewhat bittersweet. But I think this was the right time for me.”

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report. 

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines covered government and politics for Maryland Matters for two years before moving into an editing position. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post ― as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at The Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.