BERLIN – If popular local attorney Joseph Moore is successful in his attempt to follow another Berlin native son to the bench of Maryland’s highest court, he will have bypassed an important step in the path taken by his predecessor, Judge Dale Cathell, but the two have otherwise followed eerily similar career paths.
Moore last week officially filed an application to replace Cathell as the Maryland Court of Appeals judge for the state’s First Appellate Circuit, which includes the nine counties of the Eastern Shore. 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.
Moore said this week he hasn’t always aspired to be a judge, but added the opportunity created by Cathell’s retirement led him to the decision to what could put a cap on an outstanding career as a litigator.
“I’ve been practicing for 38 years and have seen and done a lot of things in the legal profession,” he said. “This is a very interesting opportunity. Any lawyer would say becoming a judge, especially at the appellate level, would be the culmination of their career.”
Moore, 65, is joined on the short list of applicants by two other candidates including sitting Court of Special Appeals Judge Sally Denison Adkins and Easton attorney Christopher Burlee Kehoe. The Maryland Judicial Nominating Committee will review the applications and interview the candidates before forwarding at least two names to Governor Martin O’Malley, who will ultimately make the appointment.
Moore said this week he was somewhat surprised the list of applicants for the Court of Appeals seat included just three names. Absent from the list are sitting Worcester County Circuit Court Judges Theodore Eschenberg and Thomas Groton.
“Judge Eschenberg is a contemporary of mine, as is Judge Groton,” he said. “When you think of all of the great judges and attorneys in the First Appellate District, which includes the entire Eastern Shore, it’s rather surprising there weren’t more names on the list of applicants for this position.”
Moore said this week he would draw on his four decades of experience if he was appointed to the Court of Appeals. “Having practiced for 38 years and having done a lot of appellate work, I’m very familiar with the process,” he said. “It’s an intriguing idea for me. I believe I can participate with the wide breadth of my experience.”
There is precedent for a Court of Appeals judgeship applicant to be nominated and appointed from the same jurisdiction as the retiring judge, just as there is precedent for a Court of Special Appeals judge to ascend to the higher Court of Appeals. For Moore to be successful in his bid for the Court of Appeals judgeship, he will have to bypass Adkins, a Salisbury native who currently sits on the Court of Special Appeals, as well as Kehoe, who has similar credentials.
Beyond the subtle nuances of the appointment process, Moore and Cathell have followed remarkably similar personal lives and career paths. Both were born and raised in Berlin and educated in the Worcester County school system. Cathell was admitted to the Maryland Bar Association in 1967 and served in private practice before embarking on a career in public service.
Cathell was the town solicitor for Ocean City from 1970 to 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.
Moore has followed a similar route in his private and public career and has crossed paths with Cathell several times in the process. He is the senior partner in the law firm Williams, Moore, Shockley and Harrison in Ocean City, where he has practiced law since 1969. He served as deputy state’s attorney for Worcester County from 1972 to 1978 and was thereafter elected State’s Attorney for Worcester County where he served from 1979 to 1983.
Like Cathell, Moore has a solid record of civic service to go along with his private legal career. He served as town attorney for Berlin from 1975 to 1989 and has been the attorney for the Ocean Pines Association since 1983. He also served as attorney for the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals for five years from 1971 to 1975.
As if their legal career paths weren’t similar enough, both Cathell and Moore share an affinity for local history and each has authored books on the subject. Cathell wrote the novel “Empires of the Crab,” in which he tells the story of the Phillips family and their seafood empire, and “From Lands Over,” a fictional novel about life of a family intertwined with Ocean City and Assateague history.
For his part, Moore last year completed and published “Murder on the Eastern Shore: Race, Politics and the Case of Orphan Jones,” a historical account of the most notorious murder case in Worcester County dating back to the early 1930s.
While there appears to be a logical progression from the retired Cathell to the applicant Moore for the vacant Court of Appeals seat, a strong case can be made for the other two applicants, Adkins and Kehoe. Adkins currently sits on the Court of Special Appeals and has since her appointment in 1998. Adkins clearly has an understanding of the appointment process, having served as a member of the Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Committee for the First Appellate Circuit from 1983 to 1990. Like Moore, she is a University of Maryland School of Law graduate.
Kehoe is an Easton attorney with the law firm Ewing, Dietz, Fountain and Kehoe and is a member of the board of directors for the Maryland Bar Foundation. Kehoe also has a record of civic service, having served as the town attorney for the town of Easton for several years. Like Moore, Kehoe’s areas of practice include local government, land use and real estate among others.
Incidentally, Kehoe was an applicant for the Court of Appeals seat in 1997 and his name was forwarded to then-Governor Parris Glendening, who ultimately appointed Cathell at the time. Kehoe was also an applicant for a vacant Talbot County Circuit Court judgeship earlier this fall.
The nominating committee is scheduled to meet on Jan. 11 to decide which names to forward to the governor for consideration.