OCEAN CITY— Maryland Governor Larry Hogan this week announced he has appointed sitting Worcester County Magistrate Cathi Coates to fill a vacancy on the Worcester County District Court, making her the first woman in state history to serve on that court.
Coates was one of four appointees to the bench around the state announced by Hogan this week. She has been appointed to fill a vacancy created when long-sitting and venerable Ocean City District Court Judge Daniel Mumford retired in March.
After years in private practice, a few years back, Coates was appointed Domestic and Juvenile Magistrate for Worcester County. Her ascension to magistrate came after Judge Mary Margaret “Peggy” Kent was appointed to sit on the Worcester County Circuit Court in 2018.
Coates’ practice as magistrate consists largely of civil work, although in juvenile delinquency cases and domestic violence cases, the same criminal principles for cases she will hear on the District Court bench are applicable. Hogan praised Coates for her appointment to the District Court, along with the three others appointed to the Circuit Court bench in Montgomery and Garret Counties.
“I am proud to appoint such distinguished individuals to serve in our state’s judicial system,” he said. “Our state is gaining an immensely talented and principled group of judges who honorably serve the citizens of their respected counties and Maryland in the years to come. I especially want to congratulate Cathi Coates as she becomes the first woman in state history to serve on the Worcester County District Court.”
Mumford’s retirement set in motion a lengthy process to fill the vacancy. Those interested in the position first apply to the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which interviews the potential candidates and winnows the list of applicants down further. The commission then forwards a shortened list of nominees to the governor for review and interviews before making the appointment.
For the Worcester County District Court position, the list of applicants was impressive and included several well known and highly respected members of the legal community locally and beyond. The list of applicants included Coates, Patrizia Coletta, Michael Farlow, David Gaskill, Steven Rakow, Regan Smith, and Kristina Watkowski.
After vetting the applicants, the Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded a list of four nominees to Hogan, who ultimately made the appointment to the position. The list of four nominees forwarded to the governor included Coates, of course, along with Farlow, Gaskill and Smith. A humble Coates said this week the governor could have gone either way with his choice for the position among the four final nominees.
“There were no wrong choices for Worcester County,” she said. “The four that ended up on the nominee list are well-respected in the community and all are extremely qualified. There really wasn’t a bad choice for Worcester. I was grateful to go through the process with them, and I’m grateful to the governor for appointing me.”
In filling the vacancy created by Mumford’s retirement, Coates will ultimately serve much of her time on the District Court bench in Ocean City. Mumford was appointed to the District Court bench in December 2005, and Judge Gerald Mumford, who largely serves on the District Court bench in Snow Hill was appointed a month later in January 2006. Purnell is also the District Administrative Judge for Maryland’s Second District, which includes Worcester and much of the Lower Shore.
Coates said she will serve in Ocean City, although she will occasionally rotate to Wicomico County and Salisbury, particularly when the docket gets lighter at certain times of the year because of the seasonal nature of the resort.
“I will largely remain in District Court in Ocean City in Judge Mumford’s position, although I will go to Salisbury two days a week from January to June when the docket is slower in Ocean City,” she said. “Initially, I will be in training. The plan is to send me to other jurisdictions and learn from other judges.”
Coates said serving on the District Court bench in Ocean City does not represent a big departure from the types of cases she now hears as Magistrate. She also served for years in private practice and is experienced and well-versed in the types of cases she will hear on the District Court bench.
“As a Master, I do juvenile delinquency cases and domestic violence cases and peace orders and those types of things,” she said. “It’s a little different, but the legal principles are the same. This is more of a return to what I did in my private practice before I was on the bench.”
Coates said she considered applying for a vacant District Court seat in Worcester County when there was an opening 16 years ago.
“I was interested in it, but I didn’t apply in 2005,” she said. “Having taken the Master position, my interest changed, but it’s something I thought of. I always liked the District Court level. The timing was just right.”
Coates received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Lynchburg, formerly Lynchburg College. She earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore School of Law.