Three women take the bench on historic day They make up a panel to hear appellate cases

September 03, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Just by walking into the courtroom yesterday, the three judges made a statement: Women on the state's intermediate appellate court have achieved critical mass.

The opening of the fall term of the Court of Special Appeals marked the first time one of its three-judge panels was all women.

"We all wore pearls to mark the occasion," Judge Ellen L. Hollander quipped during a short break. "It was either this or white gloves."

As cameras clicked in the courtroom -- an exception for the day -- Hollander briefly noted the "rather historic composition of today's particular panel" and efforts to diversify the bench. "This is really a very exciting moment."

The late June addition of then-Wicomico County Circuit Judge Sally D. Adkins to the Court of Special Appeals made yesterday's trio inevitable for the 32-year-old appeals court.

Hollander, a former Baltimore City Circuit judge, is beginning her fifth year on the appellate bench and Deborah S. Byrnes, formerly a civil trial attorney from Towson, is in her second.

The number of female judges has more than doubled since 1986, when 19 women donned judicial robes, according to court statistics. As of May, 52 of the state's 256 sitting judges were women.

Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, whose law office is in Columbia, took issue with a focus of appointments being on gender or race, saying it was politically divisive and demeaning to judicial appointees.

A focus on "gender or race as to distinguish from other types of life experiences, I think it's too narrow," he said.

Assistant public defender Bradford C. Peabody said while bias against female judges is yielding to a more diverse bench, a lawyer can't get caught up in the sex of the judge.

"Once the argument starts, they are just judges," he said.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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