Heller to leave post by summer

His resignation creates fourth vacancy on county's Circuit Court

Longest serving on bench

April 10, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. will retire by the end of June, creating a fourth vacancy on the 10-judge bench and giving Gov. Parris N. Glendening the opportunity to have chosen all of its judges.

Speculation that Heller, a judge for 18 years, would retire when he turned 60 on March 8 had been rampant for months, even after he told the governor last summer that he wished to be reappointed for a second 15-year term.

During a February vacation "it started to feel right to me that the time was now," he said.

He said he sent a letter to Glendening on Friday night, but the governor's office had not received it.

An Annapolis resident who serves on the boards of several organizations, Heller said he hopes to travel this summer and is open to returning to the bench in retirement, especially to help settle cases. But he is also contemplating trumpet lessons and pursuing a master's degree in psychology or in mediation.

Heller was appointed in June 1984 and is the county's longest-serving sitting Circuit Court judge. He is respected for being meticulous, knowledgeable in nuances of the law and unfailingly courteous. He often is not particularly speedy, and is known for lengthy explanations in court.

"I put him on my A list throughout the years," said veteran lawyer Ronald A. Baradel. "He was a student of the law and extremely conscientious, particularly with juries. I think he has done as good a job as any judge I have seen in explaining things to juries."

Said attorney Rignal W. Baldwin, "It's a loss to the bench."

Joseph P. Manck, administrative judge of the court, said he will miss Heller tremendously.

"I have gone up to talk to him so many times and he has been so helpful," Manck said.

He said Heller has been able to prod litigants to settle by his approach in conferences. "He's a pretty logical and knowledgeable individual. He makes a lot of sense, and people listen to him."

The court has been short three judges since the retirements of Eugene M. Lerner and James C. Cawood Jr. last year and the appointment in December of Clayton Greene Jr. to the Court of Special Appeals. Whether it has a four-judge shortage will be determined by when the governor fills the vacancies.

When he does, the bench will become the only one of its size in the state to have all its judges chosen by Glendening.

"We will have an idea of what he thinks a bench, a major bench, should look like," said William L. Reynolds, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and close observer of the state judiciary.

Experience, specialty, ethnicity and gender are factors, Reynolds said. The county's Circuit Court, with Greene's move to the appeals court, is all white, with two women and five men. Glendening, who placed the first women and the first minority on the Anne Arundel Circuit Court, has a record of diversifying the bench across the state.

Whoever is named to replace Heller must prepare to seek election in November. An appointment is expected before the July 1 filing deadline.

It was unclear yesterday whether the governor must turn to an existing, four-candidate pool of applicants from last fall or whether the post will be readvertised.

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