SNOW HILL – After more than three decades on the bench, Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Groton III officially marked his retirement this month.
Though Groton will remain in his office at the courthouse until his replacement is chosen, his 70th birthday the first week of August marked the official end to his lengthy career.
“Personally, professionally and on behalf of the state’s attorney’s office I wish him nothing but the best,” Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby said.
Oglesby said that even as he congratulated Groton on his retirement, the judge was quick to point out he’d be seeing Oglesby regularly until his replacement was appointed.
“That’s certainly reassuring to this office, and it should be reassuring to all of Worcester County,” Oglesby said.
Groton, originally from Baltimore County, moved to the Eastern Shore after finding work as an attorney in Worcester County. In 1983, he became a District Court judge. Two years later, he was appointed Worcester County District Administrative Judge, a post he held until moving on to Worcester County Circuit Court in 1990.
“I really enjoyed my time in District Court,” Groton said, adding that he’d nevertheless applied for the position in Worcester County Circuit Court when it became available. “In a small county, positions only open up every so often.”
Groton, who became the Worcester County Circuit Court’s administrative judge in 2010, is also known for establishing the drug court program in Worcester County.
“It takes a different mindset,” Oglesby said. “You have to be a little more creative in dealing with those individuals. There’s a lot of hand-holding that goes on. Judge Groton gets to know those participants well.”
Groton says the personal interaction that occurs in the courtroom is what he likes most about being a judge.
“The interchange with the people and the attorneys, it’s something different every day,” he said.
Groton said two of the most significant changes he’d seen from the bench in recent years were the increase in heroin use — something he said he rarely saw in the 1980s — and the advancement of technology. He said the changes in electronic media were significant.
“It’s created a whole new field of law,” he said.
It is still not fully evolved, he added, and is an area that requires extra attention when it does come up.
According to Oglesby, who said Groton had presided over almost all of the homicide cases he’d tried during the past seven years, Groton is known for his judicial temperament. Oglesby said he showed compassion but was decisive and always displayed common sense.
“As attorneys, we expect and appreciate decorum in a courtroom,” he said, adding that in Groton’s courtroom that decorum was maintained no matter the crime. “He’s very fair. He always listens to both sides.”
Attorney Joe Moore agreed that Groton was patient and always receptive. During Moore’s time as state’s attorney, he said Groton, formerly a defense attorney, had handled a fair amount of criminal defense cases.
“He and I tried numerous cases on the opposing side,” he said. “I always found him absolutely cordial, professional and prepared.”
Groton has maintained that reputation as a judge.
“He has followed the tradition of Worcester County judges,” Moore said. “He’s very capable and one of his enduring traits is his patience. We’re going to miss him.”
Groton says there’s no set timeline on when his replacement will be named. He does, however, expect Gov. Larry Hogan to fill his position the same time he fills the position held by Judge Richard Bloxom, who is set to retire in September. Groton says it is unusual for a county to have two retire within a month of each other.
“For a small county, I don’t know that it’s ever occurred,” he said.
Until replacements are named, however, Groton and Bloxom will continue to share the Circuit Court caseload with Judge Brian Shockley, who was recently been named the circuit court’s new administrative judge.
Oglesby says that while the situation is unique, he’s not concerned.
“There’s not going to be any decline in the administration of justice,” he said.
He added that his office would do its best to help the new judges settle in once they were appointed.
“No matter how competent an attorney you are, nothing prepares you perfectly to be a judge,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make the transition easier.”