Baynes (R) Named to Circuit Court; 2012 Election Contest Expected

January 3, 2011

Keith Baynes, a longtime Elkton lawyer and local government attorney, has been appointed to the Cecil County Circuit Court by Gov. Martin O’Malley—setting up what will likely be a contested judicial election race in 2012.

Baynes was named to the Circuit Court seat made vacant by the death of Judge Richard Eli Jackson. The appointment requires Baynes to stand for election to the judgeship in the 2012 general election. It is likely that it will be a contested election, with state Delegate Michael Smigiel (R-36), among others, widely expected to pose a challenge for a court seat.

Unclear is whether yet another vacant Circuit Court seat—due to the mandatory retirement of Judge Robert Lidums in October, 2010—will be filled by a gubernatorial appointment before the 2012 election.

There are two vetted candidates nominated by an independent panel for that remaining court slot but the governor is under no mandatory timetable to fill the position. And a spokeswoman for the Governor said there is no requirement to expand that list of potential nominees beyond the two current names—Jane Murray, a Democrat and currently a court Master, and E.D. “Ellis” Rollins III, the recently elected State’s Attorney who is a Republican.

But if filled, that seat as well as the Baynes seat would be on the 2012 ballot—with the potential for a multi-candidate free-for-all of challengers to the appointed judges.

Baynes is a Republican and a former member of the county Republican Central Committee for some 20 years before he decided not to seek re-election to the committee in the 2010 elections. He has been recommended for a judicial position by non-partisan judicial selection panels for the past eight years, including panels considering candidates for District Court and Circuit Court vacancies.

Baynes’ selection for a vacant Circuit Court seat a few days ago by the Democratic governor surprised some county Republicans, but a spokesman for Gov. O’Malley said that political party was not a factor in the judicial selection process.

Shaun Adamec, the press secretary to Gov. O’Malley, told Cecil Times that the appointment of Circuit Court judges is a “non-political process” and “at no point” does the governor inquire about a candidate’s political affiliation.

A non-partisan nominating panel, including both lawyers and citizen members from the local community, reviews the candidates’ legal record, recommendations from local lawyers and judges and a lengthy set of 30+ essay question responses from each candidate before interviewing each candidate. The panel then votes on candidates to recommend to the Governor.

“The governor meets with each candidate personally, and gets a sense of the person’’ and his or her philosophy and judicial temperament, Adamec said.

The Cecil County Circuit Court has been operating with a tag-team of visiting judges for well over a year, due to the illness of Judge Jackson before his death and a vacancy caused by the mandatory retirement of Judge Dexter Thompson. The governor appointed V. Michael Whelan to the Thompson seat last summer, just a few months before Whelan had to defend the seat in the September primaries and November general election.

Judges run on a non-partisan line in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and Whelan was the top vote getter in both primaries, so he appeared unopposed on the general election ballot. But in the primaries, he was opposed by two challengers.

In 2012, there is the prospect of two Circuit Court seats appearing on the ballot, with the potential for multiple challengers to appointed sitting judges such as Baynes.

Although he is a long-term Republican, Baynes has taken steps in the past year toward bipartisanship. According to state election board records, he donated $1,000 in October to Democrat O’Malley’s gubernatorial re-election campaign. He also donated to or purchased fundraiser event tickets for several local Democratic candidates in the 2010 election season, after donating exclusively to GOP candidates in past elections.

Baynes, 56, is well-liked and widely respected in the county legal community, having served as county attorney in the 1980’s and for many years as a part-time prosecutor for criminal cases for the county State’s Attorney’s office. In addition, he has substantial experience in local municipal and county civil law. He has served as attorney for the county Board of Appeals and is currently the attorney for the towns of Chesapeake City, Perryville and Charlestown and handles zoning legal issues for the town of Cecilton. In a volunteer capacity, he is a former board member of the county YMCA and SPCA.

Baynes is a1979 Graduate of St. Vincent’s College, in Latrobe, PA, with a BA degree and received his law degree from the University of Baltimore. He is a past president of the Cecil County Bar association.

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