Editor’s note: With early voting starting July 7, Bethesda Beat will be running election wrap-ups of the races for Montgomery County offices and the General Assembly. Today we focus on the nonpartisan judicial races.

Four incumbent Montgomery County Circuit Court judges are running for re-election in the July 19 primary. The race, which is nonpartisan, also features two challengers.

In recent years, Circuit Court judges Gary Bair, Ronald Rubin, Cynthia Callahan and Robert Greenberg retired from the bench. To replace them, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed: 

  • Kathleen Dumais, a former state delegate and Rockville attorney
  • Carlos Acosta, who previously had been a Montgomery County District Court judge
  • Theresa Chernosky, a Montgomery County public defender of 20 years
  • Rachel McGuckian, an attorney who had been with the firm Miles & Stockbridge for 25 years.

Under state law, judges who are appointed by the governor must stand for election to a 15-year-term in the next general election occurring at least one year after nomination to the court.

Dumais, Acosta, Chernosky and McGuckian are on the ballot, along with challengers Thomas P. Johnson III and Marylin Pierre – both attorneys in private practice who ran unsuccessfully in 2020.

Since 1970, Maryland has used a vetting process in which judicial nominating commissions help the governor appoint judges when vacancies occur. After attorneys complete a lengthy application about their work experience and other background information, the nominating commissions send the applications to bar associations and separate judicial selections committees for review. The judicial selections committees review the applications and interview candidates.

Pierre drew ire in 2020 when she accused the incumbents in that year’s race of being an “in-group” and being “related by marriage,” while the incumbents pointed out that she failed multiple times to make the nominating commissions’ list of nominees. Then, a few days before the November general election the incumbents got a restraining order after one of Pierre’s campaign workers allegedly claimed falsely that Pierre was a judge. Pierre said she had “no firsthand knowledge” of the incident.

Here are the candidates:

Carlos Acosta

Acosta, 58, of Silver Spring has been a Circuit Court judge in Montgomery County since January, and prior to that served as a district court judge in the county for four years. He also was the inspector general for the Prince George’s County police department from 2012 to 2018.

Acosta has also served as a special United States attorney in the Organized Crime and Narcotics Trafficking Section, an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and an adjunct associate professor of law at American University.

Acosta emphasized in a Q&A for Bethesda Beat’s voters guide the need for the court system to continue using technology to conduct some administrative hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure efficiency and equal access.

Theresa Chernosky

Chernosky, 52, of Gaithersburg has been a Circuit Court judge since December 2021, and previously was a deputy district public defender in the county. She also served as an assistant public defender in the county from 2001 to 2017, and as an assistant public defender in the Department of Public Advocacy in London, Ky., from 1996 to 2001.

Chernosky told Bethesda Beat that she is worried about a lack of “confidence” in the court system and plans to listen with empathy and compassion if elected and be fair in her judgments.

Chernosky, in a previous election forum, said a decision by the legislature to revoke the governor’s ability to make the final determination on parole eligibility for inmates serving life in prison will be highly consequential. Changes are needed to address the high incarceration rates in the state, she said.

Kathleen Dumais

Dumais, 63, of Rockville has been a Circuit Court judge since December 2021 and was an attorney in private practice for the previous 25 years. Dumais was also a state delegate who represented District 15 in the legislature from 2003 to 2021.

Dumais heavily emphasized the importance of the judicial vetting process in her answer to Bethesda Beat’s questionnaire, pointing out that the nominating commissions screen candidates for judicial office at the district, circuit and appellate levels.

An attorney who is at least 30 and lives in Maryland can pay a filing fee and get their name on the ballot without going through the vetting process, she noted.

Rachel McGuckian

McGuckian, 54, of Rockville has been a Circuit Court judge since January and was previously an attorney in private practice in Rockville for 25 years. McGuckian was also a lieutenant  colonel in the Maryland Defense Force Judge Advocate General Corps of the Maryland National Guard between 2005 and 2016.

McGuckian also emphasized the importance of the vetting process in her answers to Bethesda Beat, pointing out that the judges who applied and were appointed to the bench completed a 25-plus page application, and 13 bar associations along with an independent nominating commission reviewed the applications.

During a previous forum, McGuckian rejected the premise that sitting judges are an “in-group,” saying that only qualified judges are appointed, but that everyone has a fair shot.

Marylin Pierre

Pierre, 56, of Gaithersburg has been an attorney in private practice since 1993 and was a family law facilitator in Montgomery County Circuit Court from 2006 to 2016.

In interviews and election forums, Pierre has said she is concerned about African Americans, particularly young Black men, being incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate in Maryland. Pierre says she is worried about the state’s school-to-prison pipeline and excessive sentences.

Pierre has criticized the vetting process heavily, saying in one forum last month that she thinks she’s applied to be a judge nine times without being selected, but wasn’t sure of the exact number. Pierre has said she believes her lack of connections to members of the nominating commissions have hurt her.

Thomas P. Johnson III

Johnson is an attorney who has practiced for 29 years and is licensed in Maryland, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., according to his website.

On his website, Johnson says he is committed to judicial and criminal reform, and that judges must consider the potential harm of bail and pretrial incarceration for low-income and nonviolent offenders.

Like Pierre, Johnson also has applied multiple times unsuccessfully to be a judge in Maryland, saying in a forum last month that he had gone through the vetting process six times. He has criticized the incumbent judges in the race for running as a slate, saying that their platform “rests on their incumbency.”

When is the election?

The primary election is July 19. Early voting begins July 7. Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by 8 p.m. July 19 or are dropped into a ballot drop box by that time.

[For more information on candidates for local, state and federal races, check out the Bethesda Beat voters guide.]

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com