Jimmy Sarbanes holds onto Circuit Court judgeship

Tuesday’s unusual contest to popularly select a Circuit Court judge wasn’t a partisan-portrayed event, but Democrat Jimmy Sarbanes turned back Republican challenger M.J. Caldwell, 56 percent to 44 percent.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting in Wicomico County, Sarbanes had 12,263 votes.

Caldwell, who was seeking to upend Sarbanes’ appointment to the bench by Gov. Martin O’Malley, received  9,603 votes.

Both men are Salisbury residents with long ties to the local legal circle.

Sarbanes was sworn-in in March to a new seat that the legislature created. Previously a partner in the Laws & Sarbanes law firm, he was appointed by O’Malley from among three vetted judicial applicants.

Caldwell had also placed his name in contention for the judgeship. He is a partner at Caldwell & Whitehead.

State law requires that newly appointed judges stand for election in the first voting cycle following their elevation. That put Sarbanes before the voters this year.

Having been passed over for the new judgeship (Caldwell was among three selected finalists considered by the governor), Caldwell decided to challenge Sarbanes.

The judicial contest was a local rarity and there were concerns — especially among Democrats — that voters might not understand the election stakes.

State procedures seek to keep the races nonpartisan, so both men’s names appeared on the June Republican and Democratic primary ballots without any attached party affiliations.

The seat was created as a Wicomico County Circuit Court judgeship — the county’s fourth — but the post requires that judge spend two weeks a month in Dorchester County because that county is also short of judicial resources, according to the statistics.

Sarbanes’ father, Anthony, is a former County Council president and longtime schools administrator. The judge’s uncle is retired U.S. senator and Salisbury native, Paul Sarbanes.

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