ELKTON — Moments after he uttered his judicial oath and his wife, Nicole, helped him put on his black robe for his first public appearance in the symbolic cloak, Cameron Brown took his place on the judge's bench inside Cecil County Circuit Court's Ceremonial Courtroom on Friday afternoon.
Brown paused briefly as he looked out from that perch, seemingly savoring the sight in front of him, and then he spoke to the standing-room-only audience comprised of family, friends, lawyers, former law partners, courthouse employees and approximately 10 judges from Cecil County and elsewhere in Maryland. All of who had turned out to see Brown take his judicial oath, making him the newest Cecil County Circuit Court judge.
"The view is a little different from up here," Brown noted lightheartedly, seconds after reaching the bench during his investiture, commonly known as a "swearing-in ceremony."
For the last 11 or so years, since passing the Maryland Bar Exam in 2010 and joining the Cecil County Bar Association, Brown's courtroom view had been limited to the defense and plaintiff tables while representing scores of clients in a wide range of civil matters as a private attorney. He also sat at the defense table with clients in criminal cases. In addition, Brown sat at the prosecution table in criminal cases during an 18-month stint with the Cecil County State's Attorney's Office.
But, last month, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Brown, 44, to a judgeship that opened in January - when Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Jane Cairns Murray retired after slightly more than 10 years at that position. (Murray, who was appointed to the bench in October 2011, holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve as a Cecil County Circuit Court judge. She was in attendance Friday.)
Hogan selected Brown, who was among five local lawyers who applied for the vacant judgeship, after interviewing him and two other Elkton-based lawyers recommended to the governor by the 2nd District (Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties) Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission, which had done its own vetting before sending the three names to Annapolis.
One of the three short-list candidates whom the governor interviewed for the job was Charles Evan Rollins, who had been one of Brown's law partners since 2016 at Rollins, Murray & Brown, the most recent of the Elkton-based law firm's many lineups over the years.
Despite the two having vied for the same judgeship, it was Rollins whom Brown chose to perform the honors of presenting him to the court Friday during his swearing-in ceremony.
PRESENTING CAMERON BROWN
The respect and brotherly love Rollins has for Brown was evident during his introduction speech to the audience and to the sitting judges presiding over the investiture - Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes and Associate Judges William W. Davis Jr. and Brenda A. Sexton.
During Brown's comments of appreciation a little while later, at the conclusion of the ceremony, it was clear that Brown feels likewise about Rollins.
As a private-practice lawyer, Brown prepared throughly and tirelessly for his cases and advocated adeptly and passionately for his clients, according to Rollins, who described Brown as having an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, an impressively expansive lexicon and a gift for smooth public speaking. Brown possesses a great sense of humor, too, Rollins noted.
"I learned quickly that he is a unique individual. He's pretty quick-witted . . . No one has a more extensive vocabulary than Cameron Brown, . . . " Rollins told the audience, after remarking that he had never witnessed a lawyer who is "more articulate" in a courtroom than Brown is.
Rollins outlined that Brown, born and raised in Cecil County, is a 1996 Elkton High School graduate who went on to Elon College in North Carolina, where he graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in sociology.
Brown then spent the next several years working an array of jobs before making his next move, according to Rollins, who said, "He was tending bar, waiting tables, figuring out what he wanted to be."
Then, in 2007, with his mind set on a career as an attorney, Brown started his studies at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del. Brown graduated from that law school with honors in 2010.
To gain experience while in law school, Brown had a clerkship with now-Retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge O. Robert Lidums in 2009. He also served as an intern with New Castle (Del.) County Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Sleights.
Directly after graduating from Widener, Brown worked for a year as a law clerk for Cecil County Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whelan, who now sits on the bench periodically as a retired judge.
In 2011, fellow lawyer Clara Campbell hired Brown to work as an attorney at her Elkton-based law firm, where he handled a "panoply" of legal cases, according to Rollins who, with a smile, revealed to the audience that Brown "taught me that word." When Campbell was appointed to a Cecil County District Court judgeship in 2016, Brown joined Rollins at his law firm, where he remained until his judicial appointment.
"I am beaming with pride right now," Rollins said, moments before presenting Brown to the court to take his judicial oath. "Cameron is more of a brother to me than an associate or a friend."
FAIRLY AND JUSTLY
Brown expressed his gratitude to several people from the bench, moments after Clerk of Court Charlene Notarcola administered his oath and his wife ceremonially placed his black judge's robe on him.
Referring to the governor, Brown commented, "I am honored by this appointment and will work each day to ensure that this trust and confidence is not misplaced. It is humbling, also, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet the challenges presented by this new role."
He then focused on his wife, telling the audience, "Without her support and encouragement, I’m not sure where my path would have led, but almost certainly not here. Her boundless capacity for kindness and care taught me the importance of tempering cool rationality with a warmer empathy."
When thanking his parents, Skip and Christie Brown, the new judge alluded to the years he spent working odd jobs between college and law school and joked, "If any of you have ever found yourself wondering how long you must wait for your child to begin to find their way and begin to reach their potential, I suspect they could give you some helpful pointers."
Brown credited his stepsons, Darwin and River, for teaching him "the importance of patience. "
Then Brown thanked past law partners, bosses, mentors and coworkers who helped him during the past 12 years. He identified many of them by name, including Lidums, Whelan, Campbell, Rollins and Tom Murray, who now remains at the firm with Rollins. Brown also thanked his former law partner, now-Cecil County State's Attorney James Dellmyer.
Brown expressed his deep connection to his native Cecil County, commenting, "This is my home. It’s in my bones. This place means a great deal to me."
Toward the end of his speech, Brown explained what serving as a judge means to him.
"A functional society demands that its people know that the courthouse is a place where disputes will be resolved fairly and justly, where the law will be applied even-handedly and without favor . . . Where those who seek the court’s ear will have it, those who require the court’s intervention will find it, and those who violate the codes of acceptable behavior prescribed by law will realize an appropriate consequence," Brown listed.
Brown concluded by saying, "My vow to all of you is this: I will endeavor each day to rise to the challenge. And I will do my level best to get it right. Thank you all very much."
During his opening comments, Judge Baynes informed the audience that circuit court judges in Maryland serve 15-year terms and must run for election.
As would any appointed Maryland circuit court judge be required to do, Brown will have to defend his judgeship in the first election that occurs at least one year after his appointment, which, according to Baynes, would be the 2024 general election. (Sitting circuit court judges seeking re-election must run approximately every 15 years.)
Looking at the packed courtroom from the bench, Baynes then joked, "So this is not just his investiture, it is the first meeting of Friends of Cameron Brown."