ELKTON — Brenda A. Sexton has been functioning much like a judge since January 2012, when she started as Cecil County domestic relations master.
Now Sexton is a judge — the fourth Cecil County Circuit Court judge, to be exact, and the third woman to make it to any judicial bench in county history.
Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed Sexton to the new fourth judgeship on Monday, selecting her from a list of four local lawyers he had interviewed after they had advanced to the next round in the process, according to the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts.
O’Malley called Sexton about 2:30 p.m. on Monday to personally give her the good news.
“He identified himself and said, ‘I’m just calling to congratulate you’,” Sexton said. “I was very surprised. I’m overwhelmed.”
As of Tuesday night, Sexton’s investiture had not been scheduled. Also undecided is when Sexton would leave her current position as domestic relations master.
Once she takes her oath during the yet-to-be-scheduled ceremony, Sexton, after a brief training period, will start presiding over criminal and civil proceedings as an appointed circuit court judge.
Sexton will join sitting circuit court judges Keith A. Baynes, Jane Cairns Murray and V. Michael Whelan, who serves as the administrative judge.
Under state law, Sexton will have to defend her appointed judgeship on a nonpartisan ballot in the 2014 elections. An elected circuit court judge serves a 15-year term.
Sexton — who has been practicing law since 1988, including a nine-year stint prosecuting criminal defendants as an assistant state’s attorney — has presided over more than 3,000 family law cases involving child custody, child support, child visitation, divorce, guardianship, paternity and annulment since hired for that position nearly two years ago.
Minus the black robe and the authority to sign final orders, Sexton has been functioning much like a judge as the domestic relations master.
Sexton’s list of powers as domestic relations master includes directing the issuance of subpoenas, making evidentiary rulings, administering oaths to witnesses and recommending findings of fact and conclusions to a judge, who then signs a final order.
(Sexton’s predecessor is Murray, who became the second woman to hold a judgeship in Cecil County when she received her gubernatorial appointment in 2010 to fill a vacancy after Judge Dexter M. Thompson, Jr. retired. The first woman to hold a Cecil County judgeship is Cecil County District Court Judge Bonnie G. Schneider.)
The governor chose Sexton over local lawyers Clara E. Campbell, Thomas L. Klenk and Dwight E. Thomey, who also made what is commonly called “the short list” on Oct. 17 after a nominating process involving a total of six applicants and, as a result, were interviewed by O’Malley.
O’Malley created the fourth Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship earlier this year when he signed House Bill 83 and Senate Bill 239. The bills were drafted to address Cecil County’s heavy criminal and civil caseload.