CECIL COUNTY — Edwin B. Fockler IV, a Cecil County assistant public defender with 19 years of experience as a lawyer, is running for Cecil County Circuit Court judge in the upcoming election, marking his second bid at the job.
A lifetime Cecil County resident who is a 1982 North East High School graduate, Fockler, 53, of Charlestown, graduated from Widener University School of Law in 1999 — the same year he was admitted to the Maryland Bar.
He then briefly joined his brother Karl H. Fockler — the current Cecil County Deputy State’s Attorney who is seeking the State’s Attorney position in the upcoming election — and their father, Edwin B. “Skip” Fockler III, who died in July, in the family’s Elkton-based law practice.
(Before entering law school, Fockler had spent some of his pre-lawyer years owning and operating an Elkton-area sports bar and holding management positions in retail and in real estate.)
Fockler then set out on his own, handling divorces, custody dispute cases, workers’ compensation cases, bankruptcies, contract disputes, real estate settlements and landlord/tenant disputes. Many of the issues that he tackled, Fockler noted, were built on the foundation of mediating two opposing sides, similar to what a judge does.
In 2009, Fockler accepted a job with the Cecil County Office of the Public Defender. For the past nine years, Fockler has worked as an assistant public defender representing indigent clients in a myriad of criminal cases.
That job has given Fockler perhaps his greatest experience as a lawyer, affording him a deeper insight into the role of a judge in courtroom proceedings, as well as that of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the clerk, the stenographer and so forth.
“My caseload ranges from five to 50 a week. On Monday and Tuesday, I handled a total of 31 cases in court, to give you some idea. There are a lot of moving parts in the courtroom and I understand the nuances between the state’s attorney and the judge and the defense lawyer,” Fockler said.
Moreover, his approach to counseling his clients is similar to that of a judge hearing cases, because he always considers all sides when advising them, according to Fockler. He anticipates what the prosecutor and judge might do based, in part, on what he would do if he were the prosecutor and the judge, Fockler explained.
“I try to get my client to see his case from other perspectives, not just his own, and prepare him or her for what might happen. A judge has to be open-minded and consider all sides — and that’s what I do when preparing a case and my client,” Fockler said.
As a result, Fockler levels with his clients.
“I always do the best thing for my client, but they might not believe it’s best. My client doesn’t want to go to jail, but who does? The reality, in some cases, however, is my client is going to go to jail, so I prepare my client for that, based on the evidence and how I think the prosecutor and judge will handle the case,” Fockler said, adding, “My clients sometimes don’t like what I have to say, but at least they understand it. I have the heart of a teacher. I try to teach clients, not preach to them.”
Fockler studies every judge’s rulings and sentences.
“I have enough experience in the courtroom to know what I would do in certain situations. I don’t always agree with what judges do in my cases, but I always respect the judges. I enjoy working with all six of our judges here and I also enjoy working with out-of-town (visiting) judges, because it gives me an even broader perspective on how things are done elsewhere,” Fockler said.
He added, “I know and respect that there is a difference between being an advocate and being a judge.”
Fockler will be challenging sitting Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr., who has been presiding on the bench since September 2016 after Gov. Larry Hogan had appointed him to the judgeship two months earlier.
He also will be running against former Delegate Michael W. Smigiel Sr., who has been operating a private law practice in Elkton for 29 years.
This marks Fockler’s second attempt at this judgeship. In 2016, after going through the local nominating process, Fockler and Davis made the “short list” of applicants and were interviewed by Hogan, who ultimately tapped Davis. Smigiel also had applied for that judgeship, but he did make the short list.
Fockler’s name remains on that “short list,” which means that, if a Cecil County judgeship is vacated for whatever reason, he would not have to go through the nominating process and automatically would be interviewed by the governor as a prospective appointee.
The judge race is non-partisan, so the names of Fockler, Davis and Smigiel will appear on both the Republican and Democrat ballots. If the same candidate wins both party ballots in the June primary, that person would win the 15-year judgeship term. If there is a Republican winner and a different Democrat winner, those two would square off in the November election.
In addition to his assistant public defender duties in adult criminal court, Fockler handles juvenile court dockets and has filled in as a defense lawyer in Cecil County Adult Drug Court cases.
Fockler places an emphasis on trying to get his clients, in all cases, help that will allow them to improve their lives before and, or, after adjudication, whether it be undergoing alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation or earning a GED.
“It’s like the carrot on the stick. I always give my clients homework. I like helping people,” he said.
Fockler lists his objectives as getting his clients through the legal process, making sure their rights are upheld, ensuring that they “get their day in court,” and getting them the help they need.
“I’m also a big proponent of personal responsibility,” Fockler said. “While we defend them as clients, we don’t always approve of their actions. They need to take responsibility and accept the consequences of those actions.”
A judge must consider the victim and public safety in all cases, Fockler said, commenting, “The court must be a reliable place for the victim to be heard when they are wronged.”
Fockler’s resume includes being in the Cecil County Leadership Institution’s first graduating class and, having graduated from professional umpire school, umpiring college, American Legion and Little League baseball games for several years.
His two daughters attend Cecil County public schools. Fockler’s wife is Traci, whose son attends a parochial school in Cecil County.