CIRCUIT COURTS

ORIGIN & FUNCTIONS


[photo, Dorchester County Courthouse, 206 High St., Cambridge, Maryland] Circuit Courts originated in the colonial period as County Courts. In 1775, just before the Revolutionary War, their functions were suspended. After Maryland adopted its first State Constitution in 1776, the County Courts reopened and justices were appointed for every county in April 1777.

For the counties, the Circuit Courts were established to succeed the County Courts in 1851 (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, secs. 8, 9). The present Baltimore City Circuit Court, however, evolved from a more complex judicial system.

Courthouse, 206 High St., Cambridge, Maryland, January 2007. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


From 1789 to 1816, a court of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery heard criminal cases for Baltimore County (Chapter 1, Acts of November Session 1787; Chapter 50, Acts of 1791; Chapter 57, Acts of 1793). Its jurisdiction was redefined in 1797, 1798, and 1816 to cover a certain urban area set apart from Baltimore County, and it was renamed the Baltimore City Court (Chapter 121, Acts of 1797; Chapter 65, Acts of 1798; Chapter 193, Acts of 1816).
[photo, Cecilius Calvert statue, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Courthouse, Baltimore, Maryland] For Baltimore City, the Constitution of 1851 authorized four additional courts: the Circuit Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Superior Court, and the Criminal Court (Art. IV, secs. 10-13). The Circuit Court of Baltimore City was established by statute in 1853 and further mandated by the Constitution of 1864 (Chapter 122, Acts of 1853; Art. IV, secs. 31, 35). The Constitution of 1867 authorized the Baltimore City Court (for civil proceedings) and placed all of these City courts under jurisdiction of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City (Art. IV, secs. 27, 28). In 1888, Circuit Court no. 2 also was created under the Supreme Bench (Chapter 194, Acts of 1888).

By constitutional amendment, the six courts of the Supreme Bench were consolidated (Chapter 523, Acts of 1980, ratified Nov. 4, 1980). On January 1, 1983, they became the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Cecilius Calvert statue (1908), by Albert Weinert, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Courthouse (from St. Paul Place), Baltimore, Maryland, January 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


[photo, Allegany County Courthouse, 30 Washington St., Cumberland, Maryland] Circuit Courts are the highest common law and equity courts of record exercising original jurisdiction within Maryland. Each has full common law and equity powers and jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within its county, and all the additional powers and jurisdiction conferred by the Maryland Constitution and by law, except where jurisdiction has been limited or conferred exclusively upon another tribunal by law (Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, sec. 1-501).

As trial courts of general jurisdiction, Circuit Courts have very broad jurisdiction, generally covering major civil cases and more serious criminal matters. Circuit Courts also may decide appeals from the District Court of Maryland and certain administrative agencies.

Allegany County Courthouse, 30 Washington St., Cumberland, Maryland, July 2006. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


As of July 1, 2016, there are 173 Circuit Court judges, with at least one judge for each county and at least four judges for each judicial circuit (Chapter 34, Acts of 2013; Chapter 91, Acts of 2016; Code Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, sec. 1-503). Unlike other Maryland courts, the Circuit Court has no chief judge. Instead, eight circuit administrative judges perform administrative duties in each of their respective circuits. Appointed by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, circuit administrative judges are aided by county administrative judges. County administrative judges also are designated by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals after considering the recommendation of the circuit administrative judge, except in the 8th Judicial Circuit (Baltimore City), where the Circuit Administrative Judge has all the powers and duties of a county administrative judge (Maryland Rules, Rule 16-105). Within each circuit, the judge who has served longest on the court is designated chief judge of the circuit (Const., Art. IV, sec. 21).

Each Circuit Court judge is appointed by the Governor and then must stand for election. The judge's name is placed on the ballot in the first general election that occurs at least one year following the vacancy the judge was appointed to fill (Const., Art. IV, sec.5). The judge may be opposed formally by one or more qualified members of the bar, with the successful candidate being elected to a fifteen-year term (Const., Art. IV, secs. 3, 5, 11, 12, 19-26).


JUDICIAL CIRCUITS

Circuit Courts are grouped into eight geographical circuits. The first seven circuits each contain two or more counties; the eighth consists of Baltimore City (Const., Art. IV, sec. 19).


[photo, Maryland Judicial Center, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, Maryland]

CONFERENCE OF CIRCUIT JUDGES

c/o Administrative Office of the Courts
Maryland Judicial Center, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401

Maryland Judicial Center, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, Maryland, March 2004. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


Representing the interests of the circuit courts, the Conference of Circuit Judges is a policy advisory body to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals, and other judicial branch agencies in all circuit court matters. From September to May, the Conference meets every other month to consider and make recommendations concerning the administration of justice and the circuit courts. The Conference also may initiate complaints to the Commission on Judicial Disabilities concerning alleged judicial misconduct or disability.

The Conference of Circuit Judges originated as the Conference of Circuit Administrative Judges, which formed on March 14, 1972, by rule of the Court of Appeals (Maryland Rules, Rule 1207). At that time, the Conference was composed solely of the eight administrative judges of the judicial circuits. On November 28, 1978, the Conference reorganized as the Conference of Circuit Judges (Maryland Rules, Rule 16-108).

The Conference consists of sixteen members. Eight are the administrative judges of the eight judicial circuits. From each of the eight judicial circuits, the judges of each circuit elect a fellow judge to represent them at the Conference for a two-year term. The chair is elected by the Conference for a two-year term. The Administrative Office of the Courts serves as secretariat to the Conference.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
The Executive Committee of the Conference of Circuit Judges formed in 1998. It consists of the chair and vice-chair of the Conference and such other members as the Conference may designate.

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