Judge gets legal aid

Howard County: Legislators justifiably help new Orphans' Court judge resume other job as a lawyer.

February 19, 1999

IT MADE sense to change a law that prevented new Howard County Orphans' Court Judge Sherae M. McNeal from working as a lawyer. ot just for her, but for others who have practiced estate law and might be interested in running for the probate position.

A local bill approved Wednesday adds Howard to the counties that have been granted exceptions to the state code that says lawyers can't be Orphans' Court judges. The Howard legislation stipulates that lawyers who do serve on that court can neither represent clients before it nor practice estate law while on the bench.

That language should be enough to prevent conflicts of interest. The legislature would do well to consider changing the code for all jurisdictions to end the ban on lawyers as part-time Orphans' Court judges.

It was Ms. McNeal's experience in estate planning that made her a good candidate for the Orphans' Court. She was drafted by Howard County Democrats and finished first among six candidates for three slots last fall.

After she was sworn in, she found out she couldn't also practice law.

The county legislative delegation also agreed to make the bill effective in July, rather than the customary October. That will shorten the period that Ms. McNeal's family has to make do on the $6,000 a year that Howard Orphans' Court judges are paid.

The decision wasn't easy for some legislators. They rightly point out that candidates for public office should know what they're getting into before getting elected. But there was precedent for taking legislative steps to correct the oversight by Ms. McNeal.

The county delegation tinkered with a law in 1991 to allow then-newly elected County Executive Charles I. Ecker to also collect his pension as a retired educator. Ms. McNeal's case was more compelling than that. The remedy provided for the judge can be more broadly applied.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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