Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Ellen M. Heller
MSA SC 3520-11760


Ellen Moses Heller was born in Baltimore on May 16, 1941.1  Her parents “instilled by example, to my sisters and me, a value system whose fundamentals were hard work, integrity, education, community involvement, compassion and devotion to family.”2

Heller received her Bachelor of Science, cum laude, from The Johns Hopkins University in 1972 and her J.D., also cum laude, from the University of Maryland School of Law, in 1977.3  She completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees while raising two sons, Dr. William A. Heller and Dr. Lawrence D. Heller.  Heller lists this as her greatest personal accomplishment, “particularly so after the sudden death of my first husband while they were still in their teen-age years."4  She was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1977.5

Heller began her legal career as an assistant attorney general, a position she held from 1977 until 1986.  In 1986, she became an associate judge in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, the 8th Judicial Circuit.6 In addition to her work as a judge, Heller was an adjunct professor at her alma matter, the University of Maryland School of Law, from 1984 to 1993.7 From 1993 to 1999, she served as the judge in charge of the civil docket.8  In this role, Heller developed and implemented innovative strategies to relieve a severe backlog of civil cases.  Describing Heller’s influence, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell commented, “It used to take over two years to get a civil case to trial in Baltimore City. Now, most cases are heard within a year of filing.  As a result of Judge Heller’s leadership, the civil litigation process in Baltimore has been revolutionized.”9 Heller coordinated the Baltimore City Circuit Court Settlement Program, in which local lawyers volunteer their services as settlement officers for civil cases.  These lawyers direct pre-trial settlement conferences with both parties involved in a case. Since the program was implemented, two-thirds of cases set for trial have been resolved in conference, thus avoiding trial entirely.10

In 1999, Heller was promoted to the position of Circuit Administrative Judge for the Eighth Circuit, succeeding Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan.11  She became the first woman to hold the position of Administrative Circuit Court judge in Maryland.12 In this role, she continued to make reforms to the court system.

Judge Heller was instrumental in introducing the practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in circuit court cases.  Chief Judge Bell established Maryland's ADR Commission in 1998 “to develop and implement a plan to advance the appropriate use of mediation and other innovative dispute resolution processes in Maryland's courts, communities, schools, state and local government agencies, criminal and juvenile justice systems, and businesses.”13  On November 1, 1999, Judge Heller announced the introduction of court ordered mediation in certain civil cases.  Through this program, the parties in civil cases involving business and commercial law, contract matters where the dispute exceeds $20,000, employment disputes, workers’ compensation appeals, environmental law, and insurance law are directed to pre-trial mediation.14  According to Judge Heller, the advantages of mediation are many:  “By placing more control in the hands of the parties, mediation allows parties to avoid the uncertainty of a jury or bench trial, and saves time and money invariably expended during pre-trial discovery, as well as at trial.”15  In June, 2000, Maryland was featured as a model in the ADR field at a Summit of the States conference.16

Judge Heller spearheaded other changes in the 8th Judicial Circuit as well.  She oversaw improvements in statistical reporting.17  She directed the establishment of a new pretrial discovery process, including the appointment of two felony discovery judges.18   In early 2001, she assembled a “blue-ribbon task force” to oversee physical improvements to the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse and the Courthouse East.19  Also in 2001, Heller  helped to introduce e-filing to the court.  On June 13, 2001, the Baltimore City Circuit Court launched a two year pilot e-filing program. For the trial period, the program was only used for asbestos related cases.  Judge Heller commented: "Maryland's heavy asbestos docket is consolidated in Baltimore City Circuit Court, which has created unique challenges for case management.  Already in the past  year, we have made major strides in the scheduling of these cases.  Now, we will be able to put order in the voluminous paper associated with the filings.  There is too much paper associated with the law, and this is the first step in bringing that under control."20In addition to saving paper, it is hoped that e-filing will prove a more efficient system for judges, lawyers, and litigants.  As Judge Heller explained, “Now a judge will be able to review an asbestos filing from a laptop computer.”21

Judge Heller has received numerious honors. She was named in The Daily Record’s annual “Maryland's Top Women” list in 1997, 1999, and 2001, placing her in the publications “Circle of Excellence.”22  She was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame in 2009. She is also the recipient of the University of Maryland School of Law's Distinguished Graduate Award, the Maryland State Bar Association's Civility Award, the Bar Assocation of Baltimore City's Margaret Brent-Juanita Jackson Mitchell Award, the Girl Scounts of Central Maryland Distinguished Women's Award, the American Jewsih Committee's Blaustein Award, and the Maryland Chapter of Hadassah's Women of Distinction Award.

Since her retirement from the bench in December, 2003 23, Judge Heller stays active in her hometown of Baltimore and global communities through her many positions in different organizations. Locally, she continues to preside over the Baltimore felony drug court that she started the same year of her retirement; a program which allows rehabilitation, instead of jail time for non-violent drug addicts24. She is a Trustee of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Maryland School of Law. She also serves on the Independent Lay Review Board of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Baltimore Community Foundation Board, the International Advisory Board of the Johns Hopkins Bioethics Institute, and the East Baltimore Development Corporation.

Internationally, Heller has used her positions as President and Chair of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Inc. (JDC) to aid the world outside of her hometown. Through this organization, she has traveled to places like Indonesia in the wake of its devastating tsunami in 2004 and Zimbabwe in 2007 during its economic crisis25 . In both cases the organization has offered relief and financial support for communities in crisis. Again in April 2008, Heller visited the JDC construction site of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in the Rwamagana district of Rwanda. Agahozo is a JDC community project which provides a home for orphans of the 1994 genocide and gives them a high school education and skills development26. In May 2008, under her leadership, the JDC sent donations and relief in the form of financial aid and teams of volunteers to the affected regions of Cyclone Nagris in Mayanmar27  and the Wenchuan County of southwest China's Sichuan Province where an earthquake recently caused devastating disaster28. She has been a tireless advocate of JDC's life sustaining assistance to over 200,000 Jewish elderly survivors in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Heller also serves on the Board of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

Heller's life is a testament to the value she placed on giving back to one's community-- both at large and locally-- despite all of her career success she gains the most satisfaction out of helping others. Heller still shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. She and her husband, Shale D. Stiller, are the proud grandparents of 7 children.

Throughout her career, Judge Heller has served in numerous professional and private organizations gained numerous awards. The following is a timeline of her involvement and successes:

1977-present: Member, Maryland State Bar Association29(1983-1997:  member, section council of state & local government; 1986: chair, committee on continuing legal education; 1989: chair, special committee on law practice quality).30
1977-present: Member, Bar Association of Baltimore City (member, publications committee; 1986 vice chair, ethics committee; 1994-present: committee member, judicial administration committee; 1995-1996: co-chair, civility committee)31
1981-1984: Executive Committee, Baltimore Jewish Council.32
1984: First woman president, National Association of State Boards of Education Attorneys33
1984-1986: Deputy Chief, Educational Affairs Division, and principal counsel to State Department of Education.34
1984-1993: Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland School of Law35
1987-1989: Board member, Maryland School for the Blind, 1987-89.36
1988-1989: Member, Commission for Students at Risk37
1992: Co-Chair, Education Programs Associated Jewish Charities, Women's Department38
1992-1995: Deans Working Group on Women's Health Issues, The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health39
1992-present: Board of Visitors, Chair Program Development, University of Maryland School of Law40
1992- present: Advisory Council, The Learning Bank.41
1993-1998: Board of Directors, Cycle Across Maryland42
1993-present: Task Force on Women in Prison, Maryland Chapter, National Association of Women Judges.43 (1994- present: Member, Judge to Judge Committee)44
1994-present: Board of Directors, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.45  (1999-present: Chair, Former Soviet Union Committee; 1996-1999: Chair, Africa-Asia Committee)46
1995-1996: Judicial Settlement Advisory Committee, American Judicature Society47
1996-present: Board of Directors, Judicial Institute of Maryland.48
1998-present: Board of Directors, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland49
1998-present: Courts Administration Committee, Maryland Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission.50
2000-present: Member, Standing Committee on Rules and Procedure for Maryland Courts51
2000-present: Member, Public Trust and Confidence Implementation Committee.52
1997, 1999, 2001: Maryland's Top 100 Women, Daily Record (Circle of Excellence)
2002: Maryland Leadership in Law Award, Daily Record 53
2003-present: Board of Directors, Greater Baltimore Medical Center54
2003-present: Board of Directors, Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore55
2003: Distinguished Graduate award, University of Maryland School of Law56
2003: Margaret Brent-Juanita Jackson Mitchell Award, Baltimore City Bar Association57
2004: Anselm Sodaro Judicial Civility Award, Maryland State Bar Association58
2004-2008: President, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (1994-present: Board of Directors)59
2006: Distinguished Women's Award, Girl Scouts of Central America 60
2008: Inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame
2009: Inducted into the Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame
Past member and president, Cross Country Improvement Association.61
Member, American Bar Association.62
Member, Maryland Bar Foundation.63
Member, American Bar Foundation.64
Member, American Law Institute.65


1.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text
2.  Ibid. Return to text
3.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
4.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text
5.  Ibid. Return to text
6.  Ibid. Return to text.
7.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
8. “Judge Ellen Heller Named Circuit Administrative Judge,” Press Release, July 26, 1999. Return to text.
9.  Ibid. Return to text.
10.  “Volunteer Attorneys Lauded for Expediting Civil Cases in Baltimore City.” Press Release, April 16, 1999. Return to text.
11.  “Judge Ellen Heller Named Circuit Administrative Judge,” Press Release, July 26, 1999. Return to text.
12.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
13.  “Maryland to be Highlighted as a National Leader for Supporting Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs.” Press Release, June 9, 2000. Return to text.
14.  Ibid. Return to text.
15.  John Parker Sweeny and Anthony B. Taddeo, Jr. “Recent Changes in Maryland Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice and Procedure.” Miles and Stockbridge Publications. Return to text.
16.  “Maryland to be Highlighted as a National Leader for Supporting Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs.” Press Release, June 9, 2000. Return to text.
17.  “Progress Continues in Processing Baltimore City Circuit Court’s Criminal Docket.” Press Release, December 13, 2000. Return to text.
18.  “Prevas, Quarles Appointed As Felony Discovery Judges.” Press Release, October 4, 1999. Return to text.
19.  Peter Geier. “Blue ribbon for Baltimore's courthouses.” TheDaily Record. February 2, 2001. Return to text.
20.  “Baltimore City Circuit Court E-filing Pilot to Begin June 14.” Press Release, June 13, 2001. Return to text.
21.  “E-filing Pilot Program Coming to Baltimore City; Public Meeting to be Held March 22.” Press Release, March 20, 2001. Return to text.
22. Return to text.
23. “From drug court to disaster relief; Profile.” The Baltimore Sun, 19, February 2006. Return to text.
24.  Ibid. Return to text.
25. "Profile in Leadership: From Baltimore judge to jet-setter for a cause." The Daily Record,4, February 2008. Return to text.
26. "Rwanda; Restoring the Rhythm of Life for Orphans". Africa News. 6, April 2008. Return to text.
27. “JDC Accepts Donations to Aid Victims of Myanmar Cyclone Nargis: Emergency Mailbox Opened to Provide Immediate and Long-Term Relief”, 5, May 2008. Return to text.
28. “American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Accepts Donations to Aid Earthquake Victims in Southwest China: Emergency Mailbox Opened to Provide Relief.”, 15, May 2008. Return to text.
29.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
30.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
31.  Ibid. Return to text.
32.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
33.  Ibid. Return to text.
34.  Ibid. Return to text.
35. Return to text.
36.  Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
37.  Ibid. Return to text.
38.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
39.  Ibid. Return to text.
40.  Ibid. Return to text.
41.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
42.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
43.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
44.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
45.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
46.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” to text.
47.  Ibid. Return to text.
48.  Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
49.  “Maryland's Top 100 Women,” Return to text.
50.  Ibid. Return to text.
51.  Ibid. Return to text.
52. Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
53. Maryland Manual on-line, Return to text.
54. Ibid. Return to text.
55. Ibid. Return to text.
56. Ibid. Return to text.
57. Ibid. Return to text.
58. Ibid. Return to text.
59. Ibid. Return to text.
60. Ibid. Return to text.
61. Ibid. Return to text.
62.  Ibid. Return to text.
63.  Ibid. Return to text.
64.  Ibid. Return to text.
65.  Ibid. Return to text.

Biography written by 2001 summer intern Alicia Brooks; edited by 2008 summer intern Shannon Shird; edited June 2011.


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