2020 | Politics

Incumbent Circuit Court judges get restraining order against opponent

Dispute centers on whether challenger’s campaign claimed she’s a judge

Circuit judge candidates in the Nov. 3 general election, clockwise from top left, are: David Alan Boynton, Marylin Pierre, Christopher C. Fogleman, Michael Joseph McAuliffe and Bibi M. Berry.

File photo

Four incumbent Montgomery County Circuit Court judges have been granted a restraining order against a challenger in next Tuesday’s election.

The judges say a member of the challenger’s campaign falsely portrayed her as a judge.

Judges Bibi Berry, David Boynton, Christopher Fogleman and Michael McAuliffe — all of whom were appointed or reappointed by Gov. Larry Hogan — are running for reelection as a slate called “Elect Sitting Judges.”

They are being challenged by Marylin Pierre, an attorney who says she has practiced law for more than 28 years.

During the June 2 primary, the four sitting judges received the most votes in the Republican race, but Pierre finished third in the Democratic race, earning her a spot on the ballot in the general election. Of the five candidates, the four with the most votes will win.

[For more information about the candidates, visit Bethesda Beat’s voters guide]

According to a motion filed in Circuit Court this week, Berry and Mary Agnes Rogers went to the Spring Spring Civic Center on Monday on the first day of early voting in Maryland.

There, they saw Yvonne Butler handing out campaign literature “on behalf of Pierre” and heard her tell voters that Pierre is “the only progressive judge on the ballot,” according to court documents. Berry corrected Butler and told her Pierre isn’t a judge.

But Butler continued to tell people that Pierre is “the only progressive judge on the ballot” in a louder voice, court documents state.

According to court records, the case was specially assigned to Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Julia Martz-Fisher, who granted a temporary restraining order on Wednesday. The order prohibits Pierre and her “authorized agents” from falsely “representing” to anyone that she is a judge and requires that she take steps to prevent anyone else from doing so on her behalf.

The restraining order states that without the order, “immediate, substantial and irreparable harm will result to the plaintiffs in connection with the Nov. 3, 2020 general election,” which can’t be remedied by monetary damages.

Adam Pagnucco first reported on the restraining order on the Seventh State blog Wednesday.

J. Stephen McAuliffe, the chair of the Elect Sitting Judges Slate Committee, told Bethesda Beat in an interview on Thursday that the restraining order is important because voters deserve to know the truth about Pierre.

“It’s important not to have somebody who is not a judge giving misrepresentations to voters. … This wasn’t Marylin Pierre herself doing it. It was an authorized agent handing out campaign literature, representing that Marylin Pierre is a judge,” he said.

With just days before the election, J. Stephen McAuliffe said it is as important as ever now to make sure voters have the correct information about candidates.

“It’s only during early voting that people have had occasion to hand out literature to voters as they’re walking into vote, so when else would you do it?” he said of asking for the restraining order.

Pierre wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Thursday evening that she has never referred to herself as an “incumbent judge” during this or any other campaign.

“I am proudly a candidate for Circuit Court judge in Montgomery County and have endeavored to conduct this campaign with the highest standards of professionalism and civility appropriate to the office,” she wrote.

Pierre added that she has “no first-hand knowledge” that any of her campaign volunteers referred to her as an “incumbent judge.”

“If one of the volunteers misspoke at some time about my candidacy, I apologize for that and will inform them about the complaint and remind them that I am a candidate, not a sitting judge,” she wrote.

Pierre added that she only learned about the allegation from a “local blog” and hadn’t received notification from the court.

Email records obtained by Bethesda Beat show that J. Stephen McAuliffe sent Pierre a copy of the complaint with the allegations on Tuesday.

“I am notifying you that we will be requesting that the court hear and rule on the motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive Relief tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, as expeditiously as possible,” McAuliffe wrote to Pierre.

It is unclear if Pierre responded to the complaint.

In Maryland, the governor appoints a judicial nominating commission to vet and nominate candidates when a Circuit Court vacancy occurs. The governor reviews the nominations and makes appointments to the court. An appointed then runs in a general election to retain the seat.

Pierre has criticized the vetting process throughout the campaign, telling Bethesda Beat this month that she thinks someone on Montgomery County’s nominating commission leaked confidential information from past applications.

Her opponents have defended the vetting process and have pointed out that she failed multiple times from 2012 to 2017 to make the Montgomery County Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission nominee list.

On Wednesday, J. Stephen McAuliffe said Pierre has made a number of false personal accusations against the sitting judges.

“Ms. Pierre has made many statements during the campaign that are just not true, including that the judges are all related by marriage, that they all work in the same law firm [and] they all belong to the same church,” he said, referring to a Twitter post Pierre made in May.

Pierre’s actual quote was “They are an in-group. Most of them have worked at the same law firm, go to the same church, and are related by marriage.”

Pierre wrote on Thursday that she thinks the latest allegation made by the sitting judges is “another attempt to disrupt” her campaign.

“The other candidates had a choice — they could have reached out to my campaign and let us know if a volunteer misspoke. Instead, they use litigation to harass and intimidate. I call on the other candidates to be civil and end their negative campaign against me,” she wrote. 

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