Hughes is named a circuit judge

Westminster attorney was a trial lawyer for 27 years

April 25, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The newest Circuit Court judge in Carroll County is a Westminster attorney with nearly three decades of trial experience in criminal and civil court.

J. Barry Hughes, 55, was named Friday to fill the vacancy left by retired Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. in January. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made the appointment after a judicial nominating commission submitted a shortlist of six applicants at the end of last month.

Hughes has 30 days to be sworn into office.

Hughes said Friday that he was ready for his new role. Besides handling criminal and civil cases for 27 years, he said he is bringing to the bench a passion for legal writing, analysis and preparation.

"Being in private practice and dealing with people at their most distressing moments requires a lot of tact and empathy and an ability to understand people," Hughes said. "I think I bring that capability to the bench, as well. I feel very fortuante and humbled that the governor would select me from such a strong list."

Ehrlich called Hughes the most qualified candidate of the applicants.

"I am confident that his experience, work ethic and ability will continue to further the best interests of the citizens of Carroll County and the judicial system during his term," Ehrlich said in a news release.

Burns also supported the decision.

"I think he is going to be a great judge. Not a good judge, but great," said Burns, who said he probably handled more of Hughes' Circuit Court cases than any other judge since 1979.

"It's my opinion he's the finest trial lawyer in Carroll County over the past 22, 23 years. He's a great lawyer, and it's always been a real pleasure for me as a judge to preside over cases tried by Mr. Hughes. He always does total preparation for his cases and has great respect for the law. I think he will be extremely fair."

The 13-member nominating commission conducted interviews and made recommendations after reviewing other applicants on the list, including Carroll District Court Judge JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones and defense attorneys Fred S. Hecker, J. Brooks Leahy, Charles M. Preston and Thomas F. Stansfield. They are automatically guaranteed a spot on the next shortlist for the next Circuit Court judicial vacancy in Carroll. Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. plans to retire at the end of next month.

"We were blessed with a number of highly qualified candidates," said William O'Brien Finch Jr., a Westminster attorney who is serving on his second judicial nominating commission in Carroll. "Speaking for myself, Barry is just an absolutely excellent lawyer, an excellent human being and excellent husband and father."

The two were law partners along with Beck.

"He really is a total package. He's tried cases in virtually every major field that the circuit judge would expect to be conversant with," Finch said of Hughes.

Hughes is a president in the law firm of Hollman, Hughes, Maguire, Timchula & Titus in Westminster. He has practiced law in Carroll County since 1977 and became a member of the Bar Association of Carroll County in 1979.

Before earning a degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1976, Hughes taught social studies for two years at his alma mater, Cardinal Gibbons High School, a Catholic school in Baltimore. He was also in the Army Reserves for two years.

For nearly 30 years, Hughes has practiced various types of litigation, including criminal and juvenile defense, domestic, personal injury, administrative, construction, collection, estate, business and insurance.

He recently won the acquittal of a McDaniel College student accused of assaulting two sophomores after a racially charged verbal exchange. Hughes also represented one of three men who caused the death of a Mount Airy Middle School teacher while drag-racing on Route 140. All were convicted of manslaughter and assault by a county jury.

Hughes received the most "Highly Qualified" votes - 47 - in a secret ballot taken by the Carroll County Bar Association last month. It is usually used to gauge the legal community's preference on filling empty judicial seats.

Hughes lives in Westminster with his wife, Mary. They have three adult children, the youngest a daughter in college.

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