Prince George’s County ballots for the June 2 presidential primary are providing a rare occurrence: an election to select newcomers for Circuit Court judge.
Gladys Weatherspoon, 55, a defense attorney who’s been involved in at least 100 courtroom trials with her own practice in Largo, will run an independent campaign for one of the five open seats.
April Ademiluyi, an attorney who practices real estate and intellectual property, will make her third bid for the position.
“I firmly believe in what I can do as a judge in Prince George’s County,” Ademiluyi, who turns 39 this month, said Monday, April 6. “I realize that the pathway I am taking I am going up against the political establishment. I’m not going to let them scare me off.”
Both women face a slate of current judges — Bryon Seth Bereano, Wytonja Curry, ShaRon M. Grayson Kelsey, Jared Michael McCarthy and Cathy H. Serrette — all vetted by a lawyer’s commission and others to send their names to Gov. Larry Hogan appointed them all.
They have a Facebook page titled “Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges” which shows pictures of them holding yard signs, information about domestic violence peace orders and video of supporters including Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland).
Since the election and nominating processes for judges began in 1970 in Prince George’s, the majority of judges who run on a slate have been successful.
Bruce Bereano, a prominent Maryland lobbyist and father to Judge Bryon Bereano, said Monday, April 6 judges go through a “gauntlet” for the vetting process.
Besides the Maryland Bar Association, other similar groups screen prospective judges such as the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association, whose membership mainly consists of Blacks who live or work in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
There are several other minority and specialty bar associations that interview candidates and provide recommendations to local judicial nomination commissions composed of lawyers and non-lawyers. The commissions also conduct the same review process and pass on their proposals to the governor.
In addition, Bereano said, there’s diversity among the five candidates.
Three of the five governor’s appointees are women. Curry and Grayson Kelsey are Black. Serrette, who seeks a second 15-year term, is Jewish, as is Bryon Bereano.
Hogan appointed Bereano in 2016 to the county’s District Court.
McCarthy worked as the Prince George’s County attorney in its office of law under former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.
“There’s diversity in gender and race and also ethnicity, as there should be,” Bruce Bereano said about the slate of candidates he’s pushing for others to support. “They are being challenged by two African American women. Neither of them never applied, or gone through the vetting process. This process that all five of these judges and any circuit court judge goes through is very important.”
Weatherspoon, who worked in the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Office for 10 years, disagrees.
“Whoever wants to be judge, you literally join all these bar associations and visit with all the bar associations,” she said. “They go and say to the governor, ‘this [person] is going to be a good judge.’ This vetting thing really becomes a popularity contest.”
A prospective candidate can seek election to the bench just being an attorney.
Judge races are nonpartisan, so all seven candidates will be placed on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
The top five vote-getters on either ballot will appear on the November general election ballot. The winners will serve 15-year terms.
Circuit court judges hear major criminal cases that involve a person charged with a felony and civil cases such as divorce and child support. Appeals in cases from the county’s district court, which handle lower-level offenses, are also heard in circuit court.
Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, using social media and phone calls become two of the best options to reach voters.
“Campaigning has to change,” Ademiluyi said. “We are limited to phone calls and social media. Has it made it more difficult? Absolutely. I know we need reform in our justice system in Prince George’s County and I’m just going to keep fighting for it.”
Weatherspoon also remains confident in her chances for victory.
“I think we’re going to win,” she said. “I think people want to see something different. I decided to just run and go to the community instead of a committee. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not a politician. I’m a defense attorney.”