ST. MARY’S CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE: It’s On! Sue Ann Armitage Files to Unseat Hogan Appointed Judge Amy Lorenzini
By KEN ROSSIGNOL
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
LEONARDTOWN, MD – CONTESTED judgeships in St. Mary’s County usually end up with the sitting judge selected in a political contest between lawyers vying for the appointment from the sitting governor, resulting in affirmation by the voters. Due to a turbulent political appointment process, 2024 just might be different.
On August 28, 2023, Sue Ann Armitage of Drayden filed an organizing committee with the State of Maryland Election Office for the post of Circuit Court Judge in St. Mary’s County.
The race between sitting Judge Amy Lorenzini and Armitage, which will be decided in the 2024 election process, is a two-step election that excludes unaffiliated voters.
Governor Larry Hogan appointed Lorenzini to the bench in May of 2022 as the heat of his daughter’s race to be elected St. Mary’s States Attorney intensified. Sen. Jack Bailey was supporting sitting States Attorney Richard Fritz, and Armitage was drawing wide support for the vacancy on the court in Leonardtown.
Governor Larry Hogan appointed Lorenzini, who had spent most of her legal career with a Calvert County law firm, acting as its managing partner. Lorenzini clerked for St. Mary’s Circuit Court Judge Marvin Kaminetz and spent two years as an assistant state’s attorney under Fritz. That about sums up the total life experience of Lorenzi in St. Mary’s County.
Many viewed the appointment of Lorenzini as a strike back at Senator Jack Bailey for failing to support the Governor’s daughter, Jaymi Sterling, in her bid to unseat Fritz in the GOP primary in St. Mary’s County. Gov. Hogan propelled Bailey into the Senate in the 2018 election as a payback to a lack of loyalty to the Hogan Administration by incumbent Republican State Senator Steve Waugh. In the 2022 GOP primary election, Sterling crushed Fritz like a 1960s Chevy Belair in a junkyard, sending him reeling in the most significant defeat in decades of an incumbent.
The 2024 Election for Judge in St. Mary’s County
First, both or all candidates, in the event other lawyers hop down the bunny trail now dominated by two female lawyers for the first time in a St. Mary’s County judgeship election, must run in both Democrat and Republican Party primaries.
An effort by former Maryland State Senator Roy Dyson (D. St. Mary’s, Calvert) to pass legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to allow all voters to take place in the election of judges failed to win Democratic Party support, and as a result, the Dyson bill died.
It was clear that the Democratic Party, despite its name, didn’t want all of the votes to count when it came to being able to vote for the election of Judges in Maryland. Therefore, candidates for Judge must win both party primaries in order to avoid a General Election contest. There is a real penalty to pay when deciding not to participate in either of the two major political parties in Maryland or to decide to be independent or “unaffiliated.” Don’t count on the hollow promise of Democrats to ‘count all votes’ to be anything more than a convenient campaign slogan.
In 1972, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Weiner, appointed by Governor Marvin Mandel when Judge Philip H. Dorsey retired, lost the election to Joseph Mattingly, who won the 15-year term.
When Mattingly was required to hang up his black robe upon reaching the age of seventy, Governor Harry Hughes appointed the longtime political cohort of former State Senator J. Frank Raley – retired House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe to the circuit court.
Many political observers believed that former Senator Walter B. Dorsey would enter the race and defeat Briscoe for the circuit court, and instead, Dorsey opted to run for States Attorney and defeated the interim States Attorney C. Clarke Raley in the 1982 election.
Raley was later appointed to the District Court, where judges are appointed to ten-year terms and don’t have to face election. Raley, often erratic, was later elevated to the Circuit Court, where he ruled as a hanging judge until retirement.
When far-left liberal Democrat Governor Martin O’Malley appointed the prominent criminal defense attorney David Densford to the Circuit Court, Densford faced the voters in the 2012 election.
Republican Joseph Stanalonis filed to run against Densford, and sparks began to fly immediately with a campaign posing as an independent group, Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee Inc., pledging to support clean Judicial elections and composed mainly of liberal Democrats and a few Rino Republicans began organizing and attempted to collect pledges of boy scout and Sunday school style politics. The group’s purpose was to protect liberals appointed to the bench from conservative challenges and, after four election cycles, closed up shop, but still have a website that someone must have paid for with other people’s money that is alive on the internet, as most liberals are too cheap to spend their own money.
The group began its own campaign against Stanalonis and generated charges against him with the Attorney Grievance Commission. The charges were later dismissed.
An attempt by St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard Fritz to defeat Judge Karen Abrams in 2004 was turned down by the voters who overwhelmingly retained Abrams as Judge. Abrams beat Fritz in both the Democratic and Republican party primaries. Abrams beat Fritz like a drum. Fritz came in third in the GOP primary behind two Democrats, Abrams and Bryan Dugan.
In the 2006 election, Judge Mike Stamm had been appointed to the bench by Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. Stamm was challenged in the election by two opponents. Former States Attorney George Sparling, who won the election in 1974 and served one term along with attorney Shane Mattingly, split the county vote, and Stamm, a favorite of teachers, won the election to be able to keep his robes and gavel, a job which will pay him for the rest of his life.
In December 2018, Governor Larry Hogan appointed Joseph Michael Stanalonis to the Circuit Court in St. Mary’s County upon the retirement of Judge Karen Abrams. Stanalonis was hired as an assistant state’s attorney by the late Walter B. Dorsey and continued to serve as a prosecutor until his appointment by Hogan.
Armitage Says She Will Build a Better Community
On her campaign website to promote her candidacy for Judge, Sue Ann Armitage states that “Building the community we deserve is going to take an effort from all of us. We’re asking for you to support our mission by contributing to this campaign. Your donations will help us create a brighter future for all residents of St. Mary’s County.”
The political rhetoric of campaign websites soliciting bucks for bumper stickers, signs, and social media advertising aside, it is unknown how any circuit court judge ever did much for building a better community. Armitage’s law practice has centered on family law, according to her campaign website, and the contributions to building a better community from a divorce attorney depend on one’s perspective and objectives.
When an old-fashioned slip-and-fall attorney or ambulance chaser ran for judge, voters could measure their abilities in the amounts of awards from juries that attorneys post from news stories and frame to hang in the waiting rooms of their law offices. Assessing how child custody battles and alimony awards build a better community is a bit more subjective.
Criminal defense attorneys running for Judge, as Dave Densford did when trying to stay on the bench, can hardly point to their record of keeping dangerous criminals out of jail on technicalities as making the community safer and better.
It could be that Armitage is confused about the office for which she is attempting to win, as her campaign website points out that “St. Mary’s County is at once a small town, full of history and tradition, as well as the home to some of the most innovative industries and modern technology in the world. There are farmers, watermen, engineers, and teachers who call this place home, and it’s vital that their voices continue to be heard as the county grows.”
A Circuit Court Judge sorts out the family law cases, which Armitage says is seventy percent of the caseload in local courts.
Perhaps Armitage is trying to say that a Judge might need to separate the engineers from larger portions of their plump defense contractor salaries when in the middle of a divorce or perhaps that a waterman must cull his oysters in a more favorable manner to provide for his wife and children to pay for his dalliance with the barmaid at a local watering hole.
The methods and means of divorce lawyers often result in the full employment of private detectives lurking around cheap motels and catching errant Navy captains stepping out with their secretaries in sleazy rendezvouses.
Many women in St. Mary’s County can thank Sue Ann Armitage for leveling the score in marital property settlements and exacting child support from deadbeat dads, and they may become vigorous volunteers in the quest for a judgeship for their former attorney.
Including teachers in the campaign, political pandering, and bugling was definitely a nod to the success of Mike Stamm in cultivating teachers in his campaign for Judge in 2006. Stamm was a teacher in St. Mary’s County before graduating from law school, and perhaps Armitage is leaning on her background as teaching business law at St. Mary’s College about twenty years ago.
Lessons for Lawyering
Armitage cites her experience in providing mentorship for lawyers and “connecting new practitioners with more experienced peers” as being one of the facets of her background that makes her just the one to pick for the judgeship.
In the days before there were such groups as ‘Inns of Court’, where Armitage serves as Vice President of the Southern Maryland Chapter, lawyers learned from older, more experienced lawyers by having their butts handed to them in the courtroom by such venerable superstars as Paul J. Bailey, Joe Weiner, Oliver Guyther, Walter Dorsey or Alec Loker.
Losing a case in front of a packed courtroom with loud laughter at a losing effort before the Judge slams the gavel down to quiet the gallery is one of the best ways to learn the law.
The other late and lamented lessons never more to be learned are due to the demise of classrooms of the Town Inn, The Roost, Abell’s Wharf, Pennies, Old Gum Tavern, and Leonardtown Wharf, where the old denizens of the legal society once educated the new barristers while drinking ten-ounce Budweiser’s and playing pitch.
Now those old lawyers are all pushing up daisies and current fashions of wine sipping and fawning over priceless pearls of wisdom parted with from today’s top legal minds pass for education.
Armitage isn’t taking anyone for granted in this campaign, and she is extending her invitation for everyone to come over for a crab feast as she has the secret on how to host the perfect crab feast – at a price.
The chief difference between Sue Ann Armitage and her opponent in the election, Judge Lorenzini, is that Armitage and her law partner, husband Dan, are both from St. Mary’s County and have deep roots, while Lorenzini points to her being selected from a “deep pool of candidates” when she was appointed to the bench by Hogan. Sue Ann Armitage’s grandmother operated the old 235 Diner at Laurel Grove, and her father was a Master Chief in the Navy at Pax River.
Armitage poses with family and friends at a crab feast in photos displayed on her campaign website, while Lorenzini is shown with a group of people who would largely be unknown to anyone in St. Mary’s County. All references to Lorenzini’s legal work and groups with whom she has participated do not mention St. Mary’s County but instead refer to “community,” as it may be that all or most of those activities were in Calvert County.
Armitage lists many organizations she has participated in, volunteered for, and served and names them, all of which are in St. Mary’s County. She even names the ballfields at local bars where she played softball and notes her time serving tables at church suppers in Ridge.
Lorenzini has never paid a dime in property taxes in St. Mary’s County.
There are no records in Maryland that show that Lorenzini has ever owned property in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Two land deed records show that the Calvert Circuit Court appointed Lorenzini as an attorney to handle the disposal of two properties owned by Mary L. Webb located in St. Mary’s County. Without owning property in St. Mary’s, Lorenzini has never paid a dime in property taxes in St. Mary’s County.
In contrast, Maryland land records show that Sue Ann and Daniel Armitage bought their property on Carthagena Creek in Drayden in 1998 and have been paying real estate taxes ever since.
Amy Lorenzini, listing her address as being on Redwood Lane, in Wildewood, donated $100 to the State Senate campaign Friends of Jack Bailey on November 15, 2021. The property is not in her name but is listed only in the name of her husband, who bought the property in 2009. Land records show that Lorenzini doesn’t own property in either Calvert or St. Mary’s.
According to Campaign Finance records, Sue Ann Armitage donated $1,500 on November 3, 2021, to the Friends of Jack Bailey campaign for the Maryland Senate and, on October 24, 2019, paid for tickets with $60 cash to the Friends of Jack Bailey campaign. The political merry-go-round process of Larry Hogan punishing Sen. Bailey by foisting a Calvert County attorney on the citizens of St. Mary’s County may result in voters deciding that it’s time to right a wrong again as in 1972 when voters elected Joe Mattingly and replaced Mandel’s appointment of Joe Weiner.