1st Female Judge Finds That Cases 'Are Really Close'

20 News Story

January 05, 1992|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Carroll District Judge Jo Ann Ellinghaus-Jones has a new perspectivethese days.

"Things look different from this side of the bench. It's amazing how many cases are really close," said Ellinghaus-Jones, a former defense attorney and Carroll's newest and youngest judge.

She's also the first female judge in county history.

Ellinghaus-Jones, 35, took the bench in April, filling the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Francis A. Arnold to Carroll Circuit Court.

She has a 10-year term, at an annual salary of $82,300.

Before her appointment, she worked as an attorney in Elwood Swam's Hampstead practice for eight years. Previously, she was a clerk for Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns and the town attorney for Manchester.

Ellinghaus-Jones said when she first took the bench, deciding criminal cases "beyond a reasonable doubt" seemed to be an insurmountable task.

But, she said, deciding cases has become surprisingly easy.

"Most of the time, something convinces you one way or the other of the right decision," she said.

Ellinghaus-Jones said she thinks county attorneys have adjusted well to their first female judge.

"Some have triedto see what they can get away with, but I can't blame them for that," she said. "You do that with any new judge."

Some have had difficulty breaking the "his honor" habit, but no one has been disrespectful, she said.

A female witness in a case once called Ellinghaus-Jones "hon." Without missing a beat, Ellinghaus-Jones told the woman, "That's Judge Hon to you."

She said it has been difficult conformingto the stringent schedule of District Court, where cases are heard beginning at 9:30 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m.

"It's two shows a day, fivedays a week," she said. "If morning court runs long, you end up skipping lunch or gulping it down."

The part of the job Ellinghaus-Jones likes the least is deciding whether to reduce a defendant's bail.

After bail is set by a court commissioner, defendants come to District Court to ask for a lower bail.

Judges must determine if the defendant is likely to flee before the case comes to court or if he orshe is a danger to the community.

"They should just issue us a crystal ball when we're sworn in," she said. "It's hard to know if someone is a good risk."

As much as Ellinghaus-Jones dislikes bail reviews, she says, she has fun in traffic court.

"Traffic court is like a microcosm of life," she said.

People come up with the strangest excuses for speeding, and when one person's excuse seems to work, the other defendants in the courtroom try it, she said.

"It's usually a little less serious in there," she said.

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