Process Underway To Find Cathell’s Successor On Bench

BERLIN – An effort is underway to find a replacement for retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Dale R. Cathell, a Berlin native and Stephen Decatur High School graduate who ascended to the state’s highest court in 1998.

Cathell officially retired in July having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, but continues to sit on the bench pending the appointment of his replacement. The Maryland Judicial Nominating Committee this week posted a deadline date of Dec. 12 for qualified candidates to apply for Cathell’s seat on the Court of Appeals bench representing the First Appellate Circuit, which includes the nine counties of the Eastern Shore.

Once the Dec. 12 deadline to apply for the judgeship passes, the Judicial Nominating Committee will interview each of the applicants and pare down a smaller list to present to Governor Martin O’Malley, who will ultimately make the appointment. The list of applicants remains private until the closing date on Dec. 12 and it remains to be seen if any sitting judge in Worcester County or across the lower shore is interested.

There is precedent for a Court of Appeals judgeship applicant to be nominated and appointed from the same jurisdiction as a retiring judge, although there is no official protocol. The requirements include residence in the state for at least five years and residence in the jurisdiction where the vacancy exists for at least six months.

“There is no provision in the process requiring an applicant is appointed from the same jurisdiction as the retiring judge,” said Maryland Judiciary Public Information Officer Darryl Presley this week. “It varies. The successful applicant could come from the same jurisdiction, but it is not a pre-requisite. Typically, they are sitting judges, but they can also be lawyers in the Maryland Bar Association.”

Cathell ascended to the state’s highest court through the local judicial system. Upon admission to the Maryland bar in 1967, he worked in private practice for several years including a stint as the City Attorney for the town of Ocean City from 1970-1976. In 1980, Cathell was appointed as a District Court judge for Worcester County and advanced to the Circuit Court in Worcester in 1982, where he remained for several years until 1989.

Cathell ascended to the state’s Court of Special Appeals in 1989 and sat on Maryland’s second highest bench until 1998 when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals.

The Appellate Judicial Nominating Committee has other high-ranking judgeships to dispense with before moving forward with replacing Cathell. Court of Appeals Judge Alan Wilner officially retired last January but remains on the bench while the replacement process runs its course. In addition, Court of Special Appeals Judge James Kenney III has retired and his replacement process is also underway.

Just four candidates applied for Wilner’s seat and the committee has pared down the list to submit to the governor to three. By contrast, as many as 30 candidates applied for Kenney’s Court of Special Appeals seat and that list has not yet been pared down for submission to the governor.

The two Court of Appeals vacancies and the Court of Special Appeals vacancy represents a unique opportunity for O’Malley to shape Maryland’s highest courts for years to come. When the process is complete, the governor will have appointed new judges to three of the highest positions in the state’s judicial system.