One of my absolute favorite benefits of being a member of the Judicial Division is meeting my colleagues and friends in the judiciary in the NCSCJ, NCSTJ, NCFTJ, NCALJ and AJC, and their supporters in the Lawyers Conference. I had the extraordinary opportunity to do both things recently when attending the National College of Probate Court Judges meeting in Philadelphia, PA. I caught up with The Honorable Bill Self, who many in the NCSCJ will remember for his years of hosting the NCSCJ’s “Fabulous Prizes” drawing. I also had the opportunity to meet a new member of the ABA Judicial Division, The Honorable Elizabeth Ann Fitch, who serves on the Orphans’ Court in Howard County, Maryland. Hers is a remarkable path to the bench, and I asked her to allow me to share it in this edition of the JD Record.
Judge Elizabeth Ann Fitch, a new member of the ABA Judicial Division, was elected to serve on the Orphans’ Court for Howard County, Maryland on November 6, 2018. Maryland, like its neighbor, Pennsylvania, retains the name ‘Orphans’ Court’ for its probate court. Orphans’ Courts throughout Maryland have original jurisdiction over estate and judicial probate matters including the judicial administration of estates and caveat proceedings.
Judge Fitch, a life-long resident of Maryland, began her legal career during her junior year at the University of Maryland at College Park when she interned as a Victim and Witness Coordinator for the State’s Attorney’s Office for Montgomery County, Maryland. During her second year of law school, Judge Fitch began working for the law firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, and White, LLC in Baltimore, Maryland. Judge Fitch recounts the opportunity to work at the firm, describing her work there as “joining the ranks of Maryland’s finest and most well-respected attorneys.” She was fortunate to work directly with the firm’s estate litigator, Mr. Edward Parent. During her third year of law school, Ms. Fitch, with endorsements from her firm and the dean of her law school, launched her campaign for Orphans’ Court.
In May 2018, Ms. Fitch obtained her J.D. and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Ms. Fitch continued to campaign for a seat on the court while she studied for the Maryland Bar Exam and she was sworn into office on December 3, 2018—one week before being sworn into the Maryland State Bar and just two days before taking the bench and hearing her first cases. Maryland, unlike most states, still permits non-lawyers to serve on its probate court.
In Howard County, where Judge Fitch sits, the court meets just one day a week allowing Judge Fitch to remain at the law firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, and White where she is now an associate practicing complex civil litigation for the firm’s business litigation department. While she is now conflicted out of Orphans’ Court proceedings, Judge Fitch, under Mr. Parent’s guidance, continues to work on fiduciary disputes relating to powers of attorneys and trusts, which fall within the jurisdiction of the state’s circuit courts.
With estate litigation rising across the country, Judge Fitch expects the work of her court to steadily increase in volume, complexity, and relevance over the course of her four-year term. With changing Maryland law, she also expects the landscape of estate planning and estate litigation to shift as practitioners adapt to new challenges. Finally, with an increase in the volume of cases and the complexity of legal issues, Judge Fitch expects that Maryland will soon follow other jurisdictions by requiring that its probate judges be licensed attorneys and members in good standing of the State bar.