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Ballot Measure Would Bar Lay Judges From Maryland Orphans' Court

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A measure on the ballot in Maryland would end a 200-year tradition that allows lay-people to work as judges who settle wills, estates, and guardianship of minors. The Orphans' Court ballot question would only affect Baltimore City, but the Maryland constitution requires that all voters in the state get a say.

Only about one-third of Maryland Orphans' Court judges are attorneys. The constitutional amendment on the ballot would require all three judges of the Baltimore Orphans' Court to be lawyers in good standing.

"The question is, should we just turn it all over to the lawyers or should we allow people in the community to participate in this process?" says John Willis, former Maryland Secretary of State.

Willis, who now teaches public policy at the University of Baltimore, says the question of who is qualified to judge is not a theoretical issue.

"One of the nominees for the Orphans' Court is not a lawyer and would be ineligible if this amendment were passed," he says.

Willis says based on history, the amendment will likely pass in most Maryland counties, with one exception: Garrett County, which consistently votes against measures that have something to do with Baltimore City.

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