Elected orphans court judge won't be sworn in

Constitutional amendment bars her from office

January 04, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

While politicians are sworn in throughout Maryland this month, at least one general election winner from Baltimore may not make the final cut.

Laudette Ramona Moore Baker won an uncontested spot on the city's Orphans Court in November — after a dozen years of running for various offices under different combinations of her four names.

Yet, despite her victory, she never received the governor's commission required for her swearing-in. And according to Gov. Martin O'Malley's spokesman, she likely never will.

"The governor will follow the guidance of the attorney general, which is not to issue a commission for this appointment," spokesman Shaun Adamec said in an e-mail Monday. "This is obviously an unusual situation," he added later.

City voters elected Baker, a layperson, to the judgeship, at the same time state voters approved a constitutional amendment that barred nonlawyers, like Baker, from holding the job.

The unprecedented conflict means she's probably not qualified to take the position, despite winning the votes, according to a letter of advice from the Maryland attorney general's office. And that means no commission, Adamec said. Instead, O'Malley will have to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, according to the Maryland Constitution.

"Oh, I'm shocked, are you kidding me? Oh my God," Baker said Monday afternoon when a reporter broke the news. "I never even heard from the governor's office about that possibility of it not happening. … I haven't heard anything from his office, period."

She called Adamec's statement "innuendo" and "hearsay" and vowed not to believe it until the governor contacts her via fax, phone, e-mail or in person. Adamec said O'Malley's office has not only notified her, but had "several back-and-forth dialogues that could be produced demonstrating so." He produced a New Year's Eve e-mail in which Baker references the "omission" of her commission.

City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, who conducts most of the swearing-in honors, said the circumstances weren't fair.

"The people have spoken and have elected her, so obviously, they wanted her in that position," he said, though he acknowledged that a commission likely wasn't coming.

"It should have been here by now," he said.

Baker said voters didn't understand the constitutional amendment or its effect when they passed it. Though some have said that she is also a bit of a mystery.

Some of her work history, educational accomplishments and memberships could not immediately be verified, and her campaign literature has been called misleading by the Baltimore Orphans Court chief judge.

"It's not misleading," Baker said Monday, saying people just don't comprehend her meaning. "They read, but they don't read," she said, giving the example of those who mistakenly believe that the Orphans Court, which handles wills and the administration of estates, deals with orphaned children.

She claims in unrelated court records to be on "permanent disability" for an unnamed health condition, but she declined to elaborate Monday or answer other questions about her background. She said there was no point because previous articles had broached the topic, and "nothing can be done when it's already out there."

She explained her use of different names — running for Orphans Court in 2006 as Ramona Baker Moore, and again in 2010 as Ramona Moore Baker — as simply being within her rights.

"It's my name, though," she said. "It is my name, as long as it is my name, that's my name." If her commission indeed never comes, Baker can file a lawsuit, and the state's Court of Appeals would have to address the matter, Assistant Attorney General David Hayes said in the letter of advice.

"Anyone that says they know what the law is here is guessing," said Larry Gibson, who teaches election law at the University of Maryland School of law. "This is the first time we've had anything like it."

He's been following the controversy out of curiosity, and may be more anxious than Baker to find out the result.

"I'm a very patient person," Baker said.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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