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Governor Martin O’Malley Makes Historic Appointments to the Maryland Court of Appeals

Highly qualified, diverse candidates also selected to serve the State on trial courts

ANNAPOLIS, MD  – Governor Martin O’Malley today announced two historic judicial appointments to the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court. The Governor named The Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera as Maryland’s first woman Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and The Honorable Shirley M. Watts to fill the vacancy in the Sixth Appellate Judicial Circuit on the Court of Appeals, which represents Baltimore City. Together, these decisions give the Maryland Court of Appeals its first ever female majority, first female Chief Judge, and first African American female judge. In another historic moment, Maryland’s first-ever “Governor for a Day” Genea Harrison joined Governor O’Malley in notifying the appointees and offered her congratulations.


Judge Barbera has served on the Court since 2008, representing the Seventh Appellate Judicial Circuit in Montgomery County. She will succeed the Honorable Robert M. Bell as Chief Judge.  Chief Judge Bell retires onJuly 6, 2013. Judge Shirley M. Watts has served on the Court of Special Appeals since 2011 and on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City from 2002 to 2011.

“I am pleased to appoint Judge Barbera to the Maryland Court of Appeals and Judge Watts to the Sixth Appellate Judicial Circuit on the Court of Appeals,” said Governor O’Malley. “Judge Barbera and Judge Watts represent the best of the Maryland bar and will do an outstanding job serving on the highest court in Maryland. Throughout their judicial careers, they have exhibited integrity, intelligence, and compassion. I am honored that we are not only making history today with these appointments, but that the hard work, talents and skills of these women will help us build on the progress we’re making together for the people of Maryland.”

Governor O’Malley added, “I also want to thank Chief Judge Robert M. Bell for his unmatched record of service to the Maryland judiciary. Chief Judge Bell has served for almost four decades in every level of our judicial system, and we are grateful for his passion for fairness and commitment to justice.”

Governor O’Malley also announced several appointments to the trial courts. Governor O’Malley appointed Joan Elizabeth Ryon to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County; Stacy Adele Mayer to the District Court for Baltimore County; and Lisa Angela Hall Johnson and Gregory Cronin Powell to the District Court for Prince George’s County. These appointees bring a diverse array of legal experiences to their new jobs. They also represent the ethnic and gender diversity of our great state.

All of the judges selected to serve in Maryland’s judiciary were recommended to Governor O’Malley by the appellate courts nominating commission and the trial court judicial nominating commissions.

In Maryland, our diversity is our greatest strength and the accomplishments of women are an integral part of our progress as a people. Since taking office, Governor O’Malley has made 118 judicial appointments including 52 women – 44% of the total judicial appointments.


Biographical Information

Judge Barbera has been a public servant and a leader throughout her career.  In the early 1980s, she taught elementary school for the Baltimore City Public School System while attending the University of Maryland School of Law at night.  From 1985 to 1989, she worked for the Criminal Appeals Division of the Office of the Attorney General, where she represented the State of Maryland in at least 250 criminal appeals.  From 1988 to 2002, she served as legal counsel to Governor Parris N. Glendening.

During Judge Barbera’s tenure at the Court of Appeals, and earlier during her service on the Court of Special Appeals from 2002 to 2008, she authored dozens of published opinions that reflect impeccable judgment and a first-rate legal mind.  In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Judge Barbera has served on the Judicial Ethics Committee and as Chair of the Criminal Law and Procedure Committee of the Maryland Judicial Conference.  Judge Barbera also has served on numerous committees of the Maryland State Bar Association, including the special committee on anti-discrimination matters and the standing committee to draft pattern jury instructions in criminal cases.  She currently serves as Chair of the Judicial Institute of Maryland’s Board of Directors, a member of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, and on the Advisory Board of the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office.

In addition to her work on the bench, Judge Barbera has taught courses at the American University Washington College of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law.  In 1998, the University of Baltimore School of Law gave her an award for Outstanding Teaching by an Adjunct Faculty Member.

Judge Barbera has been recognized for her consistent leadership and public service.  The Daily Record gave her the Maryland Leadership in Law Award in 2007, and recognized her as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women in 2008.  In 1998, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association.

Judge Barbera received a Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1984.  She received a Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education from Towson University in 1975.

Judge Watts will be the first African-American woman to serve on the Court of Appeals. Judge Watts has served on the Court of Special Appeals since January 2011.  She began her legal career practicing criminal law and spent four years as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Baltimore City.  She then served nine years in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Maryland, where she represented indigent criminal defendants and served as Supervisory Assistant Public Defender for her final four years.

In 1997, Judge Watts accepted an appointment as a federal Administrative Law Judge.  She served as Chief Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Hearings and Appeals in Maryland from 1999-2002 until she was appointed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in 2002.  Judge Watts served as an Associate Judge on that court from 2002 until her appointment to the Court of Special Appeals in 2011.

Judge Watts received a Juris Doctor from Rutgers University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts from Howard University.  For several years, she was an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, where she taught trial practice.  Judge Watts was awarded The Daily Record’s Leadership in Law award in 2011 and has been active for many years with Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Joan Elizabeth Ryon is a Family Division Master in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, a position she has held since 2000.  She began her career in private practice before being named an Assistant State’s Attorney for Montgomery County in the Family Services Division in 1986.  In 1990, she was named Special Counsel to the Child Services Enforcement Administration, and in 1994 she was appointed as a Special Master for the Montgomery County Circuit Court.  Master Ryon received a Juris Doctor from the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law and a Bachelor of Science from Frostburg State College.

Stacy Adele Mayer has spent her entire legal career in public service as a prosecutor and legislative aide advocating for Maryland families.  She began her career in the State’s Attorney Office for Baltimore County working in the Juvenile Division and District Court.  In 1999, she was named an Assistant State’s Attorney for Howard County, where she prosecuted cases at both the Circuit and District Court levels.

In 2008, Governor O’Malley appointed her to be his Deputy Legislative Officer, and in 2012 she was promoted to Chief Legislative Officer.  Ms. Mayer was instrumental in advocating for public safety legislation to protect Marylanders from gun violence, child abuse, and domestic violence.  She received a Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond.

Lisa Angela Hall Johnson is currently the Director of Litigation at Washington Gas Light Company.  Previously she worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Prince   George’s County and at the law firms of Dickstein Shapiro LLP and McDermott Will &   Emery.  Ms. Hall Johnson received the Equal Justice Associates Leadership Award from the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau in 2011, and she is an active member of the state and local bar associations.  Ms. Hall Johnson received a Juris Doctor from Duke University and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Virginia.

Gregory Cronin Powell spent the last nine years as a solo practitioner focusing on criminal, bankruptcy, domestic and personal injury cases.  Prior to 2004, he spent 21 years as a partner at the Prince George’s County law firm of Ross and Powell.  Mr. Powell is the Chairperson of the Juvenile Law Committee of the Prince George’s County Bar Association.  He received a Juris Doctor from Catholic University and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Fredonia.

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