His longtime position at the helm of the court's family division gone, Judge James C. Cawood Jr. will retire from the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on Oct. 30.
Cawood, 65, said he is stepping down after nearly two decades on the bench because he is unhappy with changes in the court that have taken family cases from him and that have set time limits for moving cases through the legal system.
Cawood has handled cases of family discord -- seen by many judges as the worst cases because they tend to be emotional and take a great deal of time -- almost exclusively for most of his tenure on the bench.
He was in charge of the family division from its inception several years ago. With the county's administrative judge, he helped enact its management system, which schedules each step of each case and which has drastically reduced to near zero the number of litigants whose cases were put off for lack of a judge.
Cawood has made no secret of his disdain for recent changes that since last month put judges locally on a cycle that forces all of them to tackle family cases, and of state judiciary standards adopted in the spring that say most domestic cases should be finished within a year.
"I was the family division when we didn't have a family division," he said.
But that changed. Early last month, he said, he was told by Administrative Judge Clayton Greene Jr. that the county's circuit judges would take turns handling matters of divorce, alimony, custody and paternity -- three at a time for up to two years, with the most senior judge each year heading the division. Cawood's dislike of a rotating system has been broadly known for years.
Greene could not be reached for comment.
When the change was announced, Cawood was not among the three judges. He decided that although he still had 4 1/2 years before mandatory retirement at age 70, he would leave.
He will head for a private practice across the street from the courthouse where his son, Robert, is a partner, and where he hopes to facilitate arbitrations and settlements.
Cawood said he disagreed with the rotation for several reasons, among them: Tenure in family law establishes expertise and allows judges to better assess a family's needs if its members repeatedly return to court.
"I think there is a joy in making it work," he said.
Around the state, judges and experts have long argued over whether it is better for family law judges to be entrenched in that specialty, whether it takes a particular judicial temperament to sort through family bickering, whether specializing leads to judicial burnout and whether a judge should escape dealing with sensitive issues involving money and children amid lengthy parental squabbling. Half of all civil cases are in family law, and in many of them, one side has no lawyer.
Advocates of having all judges handle all kinds of cases say judges should not carve out a niche or get stale and should remain knowledgeable and flexible enough to tackle all types of cases.
In Anne Arundel Circuit Court's family division, judges are assisted by the court's social workers, masters in chancery and other professionals.
Cawood's departure will leave the 10-judge bench short two judges by the end of next month, when Eugene M. Lerner retires. But the court could lose a third judge, if Greene is elevated to the Court of Special Appeals, which has three vacancies.
Cawood was appointed in 1982. November was his second time on the ballot. He and his wife of 40 years, Katherine, a lawyer, are the parents of seven grown children.