Election victory for orphans court judge may be short-lived

As candidate was being elected, voters were also approving a measure that could bar her from taking office

November 04, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

After a dozen years of trying to get elected to the Baltimore Orphans Court — first as its register of wills and later as a judge — Laudette Ramona Moore Baker finally got her wish on Election Day.

But the victory may be short-lived. While she was being elected to the vacant spot on the three-judge panel Tuesday, state voters were approving a constitutional amendment that bars her from taking the $65,000-a-year job because she's not a lawyer.

The situation has put Baker into a state of legal limbo and created a conundrum for the two sitting judges — both members of the Maryland bar who are dismayed that a nonjurist was elected to join them.

"It's probably the worst thing that could possibly have happened to this court," said Chief Judge Joyce M. Baylor-Thompson, who's served since 1994. "Nobody ever thought [it] would happen, [and] it's happened."

For the past 50 years, she said, every judge elected to the city's centuries-old Orphans' Court, which oversees wills and the administration of estates, has been a lawyer. But they weren't required to be under the constitution, which created the court in 1777.

That changed for Baltimore on Election Day, when statewide voters approved a new rule that applied only to Orphans' Court judges in the city. They now must also be lawyers, in addition to citizens and Baltimore residents. Most other Orphans' Court judges in counties throughout the state are still not required to be lawyers. Judges on Maryland's civil and criminal courts must be members of the Maryland State Bar.

And while Baker has claimed to be a lot of things — including a master barber, a health professional, a radio host and an interior designer — she's never been a lawyer.

Baker could not be reached for comment. She did not return multiple messages left via e-mail, voicemail, her campaign treasurer and her father, Daniel Moore, who lives at the address Baker listed with the election board. There was a car in the driveway of a home she owns on Woodlands Glen Road Thursday afternoon, though no one answered the door.

She told the Daily Record on Wednesday that she will file a lawsuit "very soon." And she has previously promised a court battle for anyone who attempts to prevent her from taking the post — even if it's the attorney general, said Baylor-Thompson.

"She indicated that she would fight," the judge said.

The attorney general's office issued an opinion this summer saying someone in Baker's circumstance, which was hypothetical at the time, likely couldn't take office "because he or she would not be qualified should the constitutional amendment be approved."

But Assistant Attorney General David K. Hayes also acknowledged in his analysis, that "there is no Maryland precedent dealing with the situation." The "final answer," he wrote, could "rest with the Court of Appeals."

Baker's campaign treasurer, Kedrick Scribner, suggested she could be "grandfathered" into the position.

"The bill being passed now … I don't think that should take her from the position," Scribner said during a brief telephone conversation Wednesday. "She's already got the votes."

And she's worked so hard, he added. "She's run for that [office] for quite some time," Scribner said.

Public records show Baker to be 51 years old. She's on "permanent disability" for an unnamed health condition, according to a letter filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where she's in the process of divorcing her husband of three years. In a court-filed financial statement, she listed her monthly expenses as $16,583, and her income as $2,253.

But much of Baker's background is hard to track down. She has a long list of accomplishments on her campaign website, though many were not immediately verifiable.

She says she was a radio host on the AM station WBGR, but she doesn't say when. She also says she received an "MBA at CTU" in 2010, but doesn't clarify what CTU is. She says she is a "Master Barber Member: 2007-2010," though she doesn't have an active barber's license, according to online records from the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

And one of her campaign handouts from the primary election, provided by Baylor-Thompson, says "Re-elect Ramona Moore Baker Judge of the Orphans Court Candidate Baltimore City," though she's never been an elected judge.

"It was very difficult campaigning because we can't challenge her credentials," Baylor-Thompson said, "and I felt that some of what she was saying to the public wasn't true."

In 1998, Baker ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore's register of wills, which acts as the Orphans' Court clerk, as "L. Ramona Moore," according to election records.

In 2002, she tried again as "Ramona Moore."

In 2006, she ran for Orphans' Court judge as "Ramona Baker-Moore," but never made it past the primary. She was elected to the Democratic Central Committee for the 41st District that year, however. And she was re-elected to that position this year.

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