Gov. Hogan Appoints Will Davis to Cecil County Circuit Court, Names Clara Campbell to District Court

July 8, 2016

It was probably the most momentous 14 minutes of Will Davis’ life when the Elkton lawyer met at the Cecil County Courthouse with Governor Larry Hogan on Wednesday. “I was nervous, but probably not as much as I would have been if the interview had been in the governor’s office in Annapolis,” Davis told Cecil Times just a few hours before Hogan’s office announced Friday morning that Davis had been selected to fill an open seat on the Cecil County Circuit Court.

The rapid announcement of the appointment of Davis to the Circuit Court and Clara Campbell to a District Court open seat came Friday morning, via a formal press release from the governor’s office in Annapolis, while Hogan himself was visiting a newly expanded high-tech mushroom farm in Warwick, in southern Cecil County, as part of a three-day visit to the Upper Shore. Hogan had interviewed candidates for the judicial seats just two days earlier, after three candidates for each seat had been vetted and recommended by an independent judicial nominating panel.

“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 in a formal statement. “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.”

The appointment of Davis—formally, William W. Davis, Jr., but known as Will in the legal community and in his service as a board member at Cecil College—is a historic landmark. Davis is apparently the first African-American to hold a judicial post in the county’s history.

But apart from that milepost, the appointment of Davis brings to the local bench a lawyer who has represented “the little guy” in a variety of criminal and civil cases in local and regional courts and also brings a calm, self-effacing demeanor to the bench, with a tenacious attention to the law. Accounts of his work representing defendants in criminal cases include multiple instances in which he challenged state prosecutors to abide by rules of evidence and law and won acquittals or dropped/ reduced charges.

He also brings an interesting background as a musician and music producer, which he would like to use to create positive musical opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Cecil County. He worked in music production in Atlanta, including work with Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, and also worked in entertainment law. “But then I got bitten by the bug” for criminal law, he said, and devoted his legal attention in that direction.

But he said he would like to create a non-profit music program for young people, to deter them from drugs and crime, and use the opportunity to express themselves through music in a positive fashion. His own compositions use keyboards, but he joked that his youthful songs might have to be “cleaned up a bit” now that he is a judge.

Davis told Cecil Times Friday afternoon that the governor called him personally about 9:45 a.m., and said that, while appointments secretary for former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, he was often tasked to tell unsuccessful candidates for a post that they had not been chosen. “But he said that he was pleased that now, as governor, he got to make the happy calls and tell people they had been chosen,” Davis said.

Appointments to the courts are supposed to be non-partisan, but they usually follow the pattern of a Democratic or Republican governor naming a fellow party member to the bench. But one key departure from that pattern was the appointment of Keith Baynes, an active Republican, to the local Circuit Court by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Baynes is now the chief administrative judge for the county’s Circuit Court.

Davis is a Republican and he attended a political campaign fundraiser for Hogan at the Wellwood in Charlestown on Thursday night.

At that event, Davis told Cecil Times that he had worried about the prospect of the usual process of a judicial candidate having to go to Annapolis and be summoned into the governor’s official office for an interview. “I was worried—what if my car broke down, what if I couldn’t get it fixed, could I get an Uber ride.” It took a lot of the stress out of the all-important interview when Hogan decided to meet with judicial candidates at the Circuit Court building in Elkton during his visit to the area this week.

“I was a lot more comfortable in familiar surroundings,” Davis said. He noted that all the current sitting judges came to greet Gov. Hogan because all of them had been appointed by his predecessor, O’Malley, and did not really know Hogan.

Hogan was on a strict time schedule, Davis noted, and it took “about 30 seconds to usher me into the office before the interview and about another 30 seconds to get me out” when the interview was over. He said he thought the discussion “went well”—and obviously it did, since Hogan decided to appoint him to the Circuit Court seat.

He will replace Judge V. Michael Whelan, who has reached the mandatory state retirement age of 70, although Whelan has continued to hear court cases while on a limited “senior status.”

In addition to his private law practice, Davis has been an adjunct professor at the Legal Education Institute for the Delaware Law School (Widener University). He teaches courses on trial process, introduction to criminal law, criminal procedure, common law, and legal analysis. He is a graduate of the Georgia State University College of Law and received his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College. Davis said he lived in Newark, DE for about ten years as a youngster and came to Cecil County about a decade ago to return to the area. He is married and lives in Elkton, with a young daughter and has a grown nephew that he raised.

Davis beat out another contender, Edwin B. Fockler IV, an assistant public defender in Cecil County. Fockler also applied fora 2013 Circuit Court judicial seat when the court was expanded from three seats to four, but Fockler lost out then to Brenda Sexton, who previously served as the court’s domestic relations master.

Davis was also victorious over Cecil County State’s Attorney Edward D.E. “Ellis” Rollins, the current Cecil County State’s Attorney, who withdrew his name from consideration for the Circuit Court seat after he was recently arrested and charged with four counts of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct– stemming from alleged incidents of nudity and possible publically viewed sex acts at a hotel in Ocean City, where Rollins was attending a Maryland States Attorney’s Association conference, at taxpayer expense.

Rollins had been recommended by the independent nominating panel for the latest court vacancy, although he had been passed over for a gubernatorial appointment twice before in the past. But given the pending criminal charges against Rollins, his chances of getting a governor’s appointment to a court seat were less than nil, so he pulled out at the last minute and was not interviewed by Hogan. The governor had also indicated in a television interview in Salisbury recently that he was “unlikely” to appoint Rollins to the bench while criminal charges were pending.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

Many members of the local legal community had viewed Rollins, prior to his arrest and criminal charges, as the likely winner of the Circuit Court seat, in large measure based on his family’s prominence in the local and state legal community. Both his father and grandfather served as judges and the younger Rollins had often spoken of his family “legacy” on the bench. But Rollins had other political baggage, even before his recent arrest on criminal charges, including nepotism questions involving his hiring of a minimally qualified son to a position in the State’s Attorney’s office as an investigator for District Court cases. There were also potential conflicts of interest involving two other sons practicing law in the county that would have required a Judge Rollins to recuse himself from any cases in which his sons were defense attorneys.

Meanwhile, Hogan also appointed Clara Campbell to the local bench, to a District Court seat to replace the recently retired Stephen Baker, who has continued to hear cases on a limited basis. Davis and Fockler had also submitted their names for that post, and all three had been recommended by the independent nominating panel.

Campbell has had her own private law practice in Elkton for many years. She also worked in the past as an associate with well-known county lawyer H. Norman Wilson. In recent years, she has also handled land use and zoning cases under contract with the county’s Planning Commission. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Some legal sources in the county said that Campbell really wanted to seek the Circuit Court seat but thought that Rollins was the pre-emptive choice for that post so she only put in for the District Court seat. But after Rollins was embroiled in an alleged sex scandal and criminal charges, some sources suggested that she should have hedged her bets beforehand and put her name in for both the Circuit and District court seats.

Circuit Court judges appointed by the governor must stand for election by the voters at the next election. But since there have already been primary contests this year— in which judicial candidates run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries as non-partisan candidates— the next election for which a Circuit Court seat would be on the ballot is in two years. Once elected, a Circuit Court judge holds the post for 15 years before having to stand before the voters again.

For District Court judges, appointees do not have to run in elections. But they serve a 10- year term, subject to approval of the state Senate for re-appointment to another 10-year term.

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One Response to Gov. Hogan Appoints Will Davis to Cecil County Circuit Court, Names Clara Campbell to District Court

  1. Josh on October 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Kudos to this article. Very well written and researched, my first time reading a Cecil Times piece. This by far surpasses the literary quality of the Cecil Whig.

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