Gov. Larry Hogan appointed his top legislative lobbyist to the state's highest court Wednesday.
The Republican governor elevated Joseph M. Getty, his chief legislative officer and a former Republican state senator, to a vacant post on the seven-member Court of Appeals.
His appointment is effective immediately, but subject to confirmation by the state Senate, which won't meet until next year's General Assembly session.
Getty, 64, was one of five people the Maryland Judicial Nominating Commission recommended to fill the job.
"Joe is a devoted public servant who has spent his entire career and a good portion of his life in service to his community and to our state," Hogan said in a statement. "His unquestionable integrity, deep legal expertise, and devotion to the people of Maryland make him an excellent fit for the state's highest court."
If Getty is confirmed, he will join Judge Robert N. McDonald as the court's only judges who were appointed without previous bench experience.
Steve Klepper, editor of the Maryland Appellate Blog, said Getty's appointment is unusual by Maryland standards, but not necessarily by those of other states.
"The background is quite compatible with how governors across the country have filled vacancies on their supreme courts," Klepper said. "I think there are plenty of people who will be happy to see that there's multiple tracks to make it to the Maryland Court of Appeals."
Hogan also announced the appointment of Judge Donald Beachley of Washington County and Judge Melanie Shaw Geter of Prince George's County to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court.
The Senate has final say over the appointments. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller declined through a spokesman to comment.
Getty will replace former Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who retired April 14 after 15 years on the court. Like Getty, she was not a judge before her appointment. She was a U.S. attorney from 1993 until 2001.
"It is a great honor for me to be appointed to the court and to have the faith and confidence of Governor Hogan in my abilities to serve Marylanders in that capacity," Getty told The Baltimore Sun.
An Olney native, he has a solo law practice on Main Street in Manchester, a town near the Pennsylvania border with a population of less than 5,000. He earned a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1996 and joined the bar at the age of 44.
Getty joined the Hogan administration in 2015 after serving in the Senate. He was a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, the panel that will decide his nomination.
He served in the House of Delegates from 1995 to 2003. He worked for the campaign of the state's preceding Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich, and later served as Ehrlich's top legislative lobbyist.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, said Getty "has always been a fair-minded individual and serious about the work he understands — in the legislature and in life."
Howard S. Chasanow, who retired from the Court of Appeals in 1999, said it's not necessary to have previous judicial experience before joining the Court of Appeals, but it is useful.
"He's going to have to be an awfully quick study," Chasanow said. "If he's bright and hardworking and diligent, he can do the job."
Court of Appeals judges are responsible for deciding which cases to hear, listening to arguments and then researching and writing decisions. The court publishes about 200 rulings a year. Nearly half of those are in attorney discipline cases.
Its decisions set legal precedent in the state, with potentially far-reaching consequences for how disputes get settled and how crimes are prosecuted across the state.
The court ruled last month that the police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray could be forced to testify against one another.
Other recent decisions paved the way for the release of hundreds of inmates, and required that people charged with crimes be offered a lawyer for their bail hearings.
Irma S. Raker, who retired from the court in 2008, said an appellate judge must be able to work closely with others.
"Communication, respect for other people's opinion, knowing how to negotiate, knowing how to compromise, knowing how to listen is very, very important," she said.
Raker said she thought Getty was a good choice because he'll bring a different perspective to the court.
"There's no cookie cutter model for what will make a good state Supreme Court judge," she said.
Getty is not the first chief legislative officer to be appointed to the Court of Appeals.
A sitting judge resigned in protest when Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed John C. Eldridge, his chief legislative officer, to the court in 1974.
The judge, Wilson K. Barnes Sr., called the move "a political appointment of a real crony." He then ran unsuccessfully against Mandel in the Democratic primary for governor.
Eldridge, who retired in 2003, said Barnes' resignation had as much to do with internal court politics and Barnes' relationship with Mandel as it did with any qualms Barnes might have had about his qualifications.
Barnes died in 1997.
"I believe some variety in background with the different judges is a good thing for an appellate court, because no lawyer could have done everything," Eldridge said.
Hogan's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, appointed his chief lobbyist to a judgeship, though it was not to a high-ranking court. O'Malley appointed Judge Stacy A. Mayer to the District Court for Baltimore County in 2013.
In 2012, O'Malley appointed McDonald to the Court of Appeals, making him the panel's second jurist who had not previously been a judge. McDonald had worked for two decades writing legal opinions for the Maryland attorney general's office.
Two sitting judges were among the four other people recommended for the Court of Appeals job by the nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commission.
The candidate pool included Getty, Beachley, Court of Special Appeals Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff, Baltimore trial lawyer Andrew David Levy, and Frederick County real estate and environmental lawyer Thomas E. Lynch III.
Before becoming a lawyer, Getty earned a graduate degree in American civilization and worked in historic preservation. He was executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County from 1987 to 1994.
He's also a veteran of Maryland Republican politics, working as a strategist on state races, leading the Carroll County campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and serving on that county's central committee.
He's a father of six and a grandfather.