[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, and that court's original jurisdiction covered the area that now constitutes Baltimore City (Chapter 1, Acts of November Session 1787; Chapter 50, Acts of 1791; Chapter 57, Acts of 1793). Thereafter, the court's 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 was made, however, 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 in 1980, 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).

In Baltimore City, a courthouse has been at the Circuit Court's present site since 1770. Opened in 1900, the present courthouse, which houses the Circuit Court, was named in 1985 for Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Baltimore native and civil rights activist.

The Circuit Court is aided by three courts: the Adult Drug Treatment Court, the Family Recovery Court, and the Mental Health Court.

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). The Constitution of 1851 also provided that the voters would elect the Clerk to a six-year term. In 1926, the Clerk's term was shortened to four years (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).

For the public, the Circuit Court Clerk performs certain court duties, such as filing, docketing, and maintaining legal records; recording documents that involve title to real estate; and collecting the fees, commissions, and taxes related to these functions. The Clerk also issues certain licenses. In this process, the Clerk's Office collects and distributes funds on behalf of the State, and Baltmore City.

Operating expenses for the Clerk's Office primarily come from State General Funds, and certain support services, such as payroll and invoice processing and maintenance of budgetary accounting records, are provided by the Adminstrative Office of the Courts.

The Clerk is responsible for the Assignment Offices and six divisions: Civil, Criminal, Family, Jury, Juvenile, and Land Records and Licenses.

The Administrative Office oversees five divisions: Civil, Criminal, Family, Juvenile, and Medical Services. In addition, the Office is responsible for five units: Addictions, Assessment, Community Services, Court Reporting Services, Court Technology Services, and Interpretation 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 four divisions: Child Support, Court Security, Internal Affairs, and Transportation/Lockup.


In Baltimore City, the District Court began operation in July 1971. It replaced the People's Court of Baltimore City, and the Municipal Court of Baltimore City (Const., Art. IV, secs. 41A through 41-1).

With Senate consent, the Governor appoints District Court 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] The Orphans' Court is the probate court for Baltimore City. It considers cases involving wills and estates for deceased persons, and the protection of minors' assets. It also has jurisdiction over guardianship of minor children, when neither a parent or testamentary appointee is serving as guardian.

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

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

In 1776, the office of Register of Wills was authorized for each county by Maryland's first Constitution (Constitution of 1776, sec. 41). Originally, the Register of Wills was appointed by the Governor upon joint recommendation of the Senate and House of Delegates. With the Constitution of 1851, however, the voters began to directly elect the Register to a six-year term (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, sec. 18; Constitution of 1864, Art. IV, sec. 46; Constitution of 1867, Art. IV, sec. 41). In 1922, quadrennial elections were authorized for registers of wills, and instituted in 1926. Since that time, registers have been elected to four-year terms (Chapter 227, Acts of 1922, ratified 1924; Const., Art. XVII, sec. 7).

The Register of Wills serves as clerk to the Orphans' Court, overseeing the administration of decedents' estates, and providing assistance (such as providing proper forms) to persons administering those estates. The Register also collects inheritance taxes and other fees. Inheritance tax collections (less the commissions earned on those collections) are remitted to the State's General Fund.

Certain support services, such as payroll, maintenance of accounting records, and related fiscal functions, are provided to the Register of Wills by the Comptroller of Maryland.

To a four-year term, the Register of Wills is elected by the voters (Const., Art. 4, sec. 40).

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