New Circuit Court Judge for Caroline County, Jonathan Newell
By John P. Evans III
On July 1, Caroline County State’s Attorney Jonathan Newell received word that he had been appointed by Governor Larry Hogan as the next Circuit Court Judge for Caroline County. Jonathan Newell will be sworn in as circuit court judge on August 2 at 4 p.m
Newell’s appointment comes after current judge Karen Murphy Jensen announced her retirement from the position. Earlier, Jensen had announced she would not run in the fall for re-election to the position and that she planned to retire from the position. Prior to that decision, it appeared that Newell and Jensen would run against one another for the position.
Jensen retired as Circuit Court Judge on February 29, leaving the position vacant until Newell is able to leave the State’s Attorney’s office and move to the Circuit Court.
“After spending my entire legal career serving the public, being selected by the Governor to fill one of the most critical roles in public legal service is truly an honor,” said Newell of his selection, which puts him on the bench until 2018, when an election will be held to fill the position for a 15-year term.
Had an election been held and Newell won, he would serve a 15-year term before being up for election again. In his interview, he said he would hope that the citizens of Caroline County would be pleased enough with his service, to re-elect him.
“I originally was running against Judge Jensen in the 2016 election,” Newell said. “If I’d won in November, I would have started a 15-year term. When Judge Jensen withdrew from the race and resigned, the Administrative Office of the Courts told the Board of Elections to cancel the election. That triggered the appointment process.”
“So now I will be the Circuit Court Judge, but will now have to run in 2018. The winner of that election will start a 15-year term. So if it’s me, I will end up serving about 17 years,” he added. “I could run for re-election at that point, but I suspect it will be time to pass on the torch by then.”
Newell said he believed that 15 years is a long time to serve for a single term.
“Personally, I think it would probably be better if the term was a little shorter, maybe 8 or 10 years between elections, so that judges don’t lose their connection to the people they serve,” he said.
Newell was selected by the Governor after a process that involved nominations being sent to him, then a narrowing down of nominations to only a few individuals. Hogan’s final pool of candidates consisted of Newell, Maureen Keogh and Bob Thornton.
As much as he wanted to be selected, Newell said he was never sure of whether he would be the one picked or not. Asked when he first thought that his dream would come true of becoming a judge, he said not until “July 1 at about 1 p.m. when the Governor called me.”
Newell has served as state’s attorney for the county since 2003 and has run unopposed for re-election twice. During his time in that office, he has handled more than a dozen murder cases and has overseen hundreds of drug felonies, sexual offenses, child abuse, robbery and vehicle manslaughter cases.
“Heroin continues to be a huge problem in Caroline County, not only fueling violence and property crimes but also destroying too many families: addicted children stealing from elderly parents, addicted parents neglecting their young children,” Newell said. “We need a comprehensive approach that gets help for the people that truly want it and appropriate punishment for those that victimize others, including the dealers that spread the misery of addiction.”
Newell is a native of Chestertown and graduated from Washington College. He earned his law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1998. His first job after law school was as a law clerk in Queen Anne’s County. Prior to running for Caroline County State’s Attorney, and winning, in 2002, Newell had worked on both sides of the courtroom equation – as a public defender in Caroline County and as the deputy state’s attorney in Kent County.
When filing to run for the election earlier this year, Newell said it had been a goal of his to one day be a judge.
“Seventeen years ago, when I was still a law clerk, I was eating lunch with several retired judges at the Caroline Country Club. I was debating whether to take a job offer with the Public Defender’s Office or hold out for a position as an assistant prosecutor. One of the judges said ‘well, I expect you’re going to be a judge someday, so you ought to do both. So if I were you I’d take the job now that pays the best.’ So I took his advice,” explained Newell.
”I think having done both (prosecutor and public defender) made me a better State’s Attorney, and I hope it will make me a good judge. Each attorney has a vital role to play if there is going to be a fair trial, whether that’s the State, a criminal defendant or a civil litigant,” he added. “Having walked a few miles in the other person’s shoes makes it easier to understand where they are coming from, and not take it personally when they take an opposite position. If everyone does their job properly, the outcome holds up on appeal.”
Newell added that he has looked, listened and learned from each judge who’s presided over his cases or with whom he’s clerked with. Two stood out, however – judges Ed Brown and Marvin Smith.
“I’ve tried to learn a little bit from every judge I’ve worked with, but I am especially grateful I had the chance to practice in front of District Court Judge Ed Brown and Court of Appeals Judge Marvin Smith who sat in the Circuit Court occasionally after he retired,” he said. “Judge Brown was fair but firm and kept a good sense of humor. Judge Smith was a legal genius revered across the State who never forgot he was a regular guy from Federalsburg. Unfortunately, both of them have passed away.”
There is another important asset Newell thinks will make him a good judge.
“Common sense,” he stated, adding that he expects to be “conservative” in his approach to the law and its interpretation.
“I will tend to be on the conservative side,” he said.
Newell said the public need not worry about his politics or his past political leanings. He said that as a judge he can never show favoritism or even a pretense of favoritism, whether trying a case or in his private life.
“Even though I was elected four times as a Republican, I never treated any victim or defendant differently because of their party affiliation or mine. I don’t even know the party affiliation of most of the people that worked for me in the State’s Attorney’s Office,” he said,“Judges are restricted in their ability to engage in political activity. As a State’s Attorney, I took public stands on some political issues and supported certain candidates. As a judge, I will not be able to do most of those activities,” assured Newell. “That will take some adjustment.
“I am committed to providing a level playing field to every party that appears before me,” he added. “Not every decision will be popular with the public but I will apply the law fairly and impartially for everyone, along with a good dose of common sense. Hopefully, that will convince the voters to extend my term in 2018.”
Newell also promised to put the same work ethic and enthusiasm into being a judge as he did as state’s attorney.
“It has been a difficult but rewarding job that has required a lot of energy. I promise to bring that same energy to this new position. There is a lot of work to be done in this county and it will take a group effort. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work just like I have done for the past 13 years (as the state’s attorney),” Newell pledged.