[photo, Battle of North Point Monument (before Mitchell Courthouse), Calvert St. & Fayette St., , Baltimore, 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. The present Baltimore City Circuit Court, however, evolved from a more complex judicial system.

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).

Battle of North Point Monument (before Mitchell Courthouse), Calvert St. & Fayette St., Baltimore, Maryland, September 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

In 1851, when Baltimore City's government separated from Baltimore County, its court system separated further as well (Constitution of 1851, Article IV, secs. 8-15). For Baltimore City, four additional courts were authorized in 1851: the Circuit Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Superior Court, and the Criminal Court. No reference made to the City Court in the Constitution of 1851.

The Circuit Court was established to succeed the County Court in 1853 (Chapter 122, Acts of 1853). The Circuit Court was granted equity powers concurrent with the Superior Court. Constitutional provision for the four City courts was reauthorized in 1864 (Constitution of 1864, Art. IV, secs. 31-42). No reference made to the City Court in the Constitution of 1864.

In 1867, six courts were authorized for Baltimore City: the Supreme Bench under which was the Superior Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the City Court, the Circuit Court, and the Criminal Court (Constitution of 1867, Art. IV, secs. 27-39). The Circuit Court was given exclusive equity jurisdiction for the City (Constitution of 1867, Art. IV, sec. 29). An additional equity court, Circuit Court no. 2, was created in 1888. The second court also shared jurisdiction in juvenile cases.

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

The Circuit Court is a trial court of general jurisdiction. Its jurisdiction is very broad but generally covers major civil cases and more serious criminal matters. The Circuit Court also may decide appeals from the District Court of Maryland and certain administrative agencies, such as the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Nominated by trial courts judicial nominating commissions, Circuit Court judges are appointed by the Governor and then must successfully stand for election to continue in office for a term of fifteen years. 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).

When Circuit Courts were established to succeed the County Courts in 1851, provision was made for a clerk to serve the court in each county (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, sec. 14). Originally elected to a six-year term by the voters, the Clerk's term was shortened to four years in 1926 (Const., Art. XVII, added by Chapter 227, Acts of 1922, ratified Nov. 7, 1922; Const., Art. IV, sec. 25).

Today, the Clerk of the Circuit Court is elected by the voters to a four-year term (Chapter 99, Acts of 1956, ratified Nov. 6, 1956; Const., Art. IV, secs. 25-26; Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, secs. 2-201 through 2-213).

The Clerk is responsible for eight divisions: Assignment, Civil, Criminal, Family, Jury Services, Juvenile, Land Records and Licensing, and Paternity.

The Administrative Office oversees the Court Reporters, the Information Technology Unit, and five divisions: Civil, Criminal, Family, Juvenile, and Medical Services.

Under Maryland's first State Consitutiton of 1776, two sheriffs were to be elected in each county by the voters. One of these would be commissioned as Sheriff by the Governor to serve a three-year term. In the event of death, removal, or other incapacity of the incumbant, the "second" sheriff could replace him. At that time, to be eligible for the office of Sheriff, a person had to have been at least twenty-one years of age, a county resident, and a holder of real and personal property valued at one thousand pounds current money (Constitution of 1776, sec. 42).

Although Baltimore City at the time was still part of Baltimore County, provision was made in 1842 (confirmed in 1843) for a Baltimore City Sheriff to serve a three-year term, and the Sheriff's Office began operation in 1845.

By 1851, while the qualifications for office remained almost the same, the property requirement was removed, and a two-year term was adopted. Also, provision was made for Baltimore City to have a sheriff. Anyone interested in becoming sheriff had to have been a citizen of the State for the five years preceding the election (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, sec. 20).

With the Constitution of 1864, for the first time, voters began to directly elect one sheriff for each county and Baltimore City. To qualify for office, the minimum age was raised to at least twenty-five (Constitution of 1864, Art. IV, sec. 49).

The Constitution of 1867 did not alter the requirements of office (Const. of 1867, Art. IV, sec. 44). By constitutional amendment in 1922, the term of office was lengthened to four years (Chapter 227, Acts of 1922, ratified Nov. 7, 1922; Const., Art. XVII, sec. 7).

An officer of the Circuit Court, the Sheriff is elected by the voters to a four-year term. To be eligible for the office of Sheriff, a person must be at least twenty-five years of age and must have been a City resident for at least five years immediately preceding election (Const., Art. IV, sec. 44; Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, secs. 2-301 through 2-311).

The Sheriff oversees three divisions: Child Support, Court Security, and Internal Affairs.


With Senate consent, the Governor appoints judges to ten-year terms.

Unde the District Court, Administration oversees the Civil, Criminal, and Traffic Divisions.

Commissioners in a district are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the District Administrative Judge, subject to the approval of the Chief Judge of the District Court (Const., Art. 4, sec. 41G(a)(2).

[photo, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse, 111 North Calvert St., Baltimore, Maryland]


Elected by the voters to four-year terms, three judges comprise the Orphans' Court (Const., Art. 4, sec. 40).

The Register of Wills serves as clerk to the Orphans' Court, and is elected by the voters to a four-year term (Const., Art. 4, sec. 40).

Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse, 111 North Calvert St., Baltimore, Maryland, September 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

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