CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Ross was recognized April 30 with the Chief Judge Bell Award. Following a day of training with the judiciary and dinner, Ross was presented the award for Outstanding Contribution to Alternative Dispute Resolution in Maryland. The award given annually by the Maryland State Bar Association recognizes and individual who honors the vision and accomplishments of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell for his work in promoting the use of ADR in the Maryland judiciary, schools, government and communities.
Ross was chosen for his accomplishments and leaderships as the chairman of the ADR Committee of the Judicial Council, chairman of the ADR Subcommittee of the Conference of Circuit Court Judges, chairman of the ADR Subcommittee of the Conference of Circuit Court Judges, and chairman of the ADR Committee’s Work Group on the Revision of the Standards of Conduct for Mediators in Maryland.
Ross was cited as “a champion, pioneer and innovator in the development of ADR programs in courts on the Eastern Shore through leadership and implementation of the ADR programs in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County.”
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee promotes the use of appropriate dispute resolution processes throughout the courts, and among numerous others also oversee revisions to the standards of conduct for mediators, as well as other publications that govern alternative dispute resolution in the courts.
On June 13, Ross was presented a legal excellence award — the Steven P. Lemmey Award for Advancement of Public Service Responsibility by the Maryland Bar Foundation. Ross said both the awards came as a surprise and were very much appreciated.
Maryland is at the forefront in alternative dispute resolution, he said, and after just five years there has been a significant increase in the use of the program. What first interested Ross in ADR he said, was simply the prospect of settling cases in a less adversarial way, with less expense, and greater satisfaction for the client. Historically, ADR was offered as a settlement conference, often on the eve of trial, with the parties locked in to their sides. This method rarely resulted in any type of resolution, said Ross.
Even in Queen Anne’s domestic cases during the ’90s, there was only one qualified mediator who worked for the Department of Social Services, and so there was limited access to mediation, Ross said.
When Ross was appointed to circuit court judge in 2003, he named five “hopes” that “incredibly,” he said, have all come true, culminating with the new courthouse — the first since George Washington was president, he noted.
Among his other hopes, the establishment of an ADR program; and a grant for Queen Anne’s County to train 80 civil mediators, 50 of whom also received child access/marital property training, to provide service primarily to the Mid-Shore. Ross credits former Clerk, Scot MacGlashan, chairman of QA’s Court ADR Committee, Bob Mueller, and court administrator Sandra Smith for their efforts, “Without them we would have remained in the ADR stone age,” he said.
The ADR program began in earnest on July 1, 2009, said Ross, and this June 30 marks 10 years. For a small court, he said, close to 2,500 cases have been referred to mediation.
“It is true that I am not a fan of the ‘opt out’ provision in the Rules,” said Ross, “but I will say that when the rules were significantly modified a few years ago, the addition of the provision that allows judges to order another ADR process — in addition to a settlement conference — has been a huge help in the requirement of mediation.” Ross estimated fewer than 25 cases have “opted-out” in the 10 years of the program’s existence.
Ross said he is in awe of the work that continues to be done by community mediation with groups like the Mid-Shore and Upper Shore Community Mediation programs. He also credited the workgroup that drafted the revised standards of conduct for mediators. “They did more work in a short period of time than any other group I have been associated with,” said Ross.
The hours of work and support of staff for the mission of these committees that combined to make the ADR program what it is, is immeasurable, said Ross, adding, this award is a reflection on them.
“Other than being appointed judge in the first place,” said Ross, “this award has been the highlight of my career.”
Speaking of the Steven P. Lemmey Award, Ross said he was grateful for the recognition for dedicated public service, and was truly honored.
“I have found,” said Ross, “that the role of circuit court judge can be one of opportunity to innovate and effectuate change well beyond simple case management.”
Ross said MacGlashan, who he called a true partner in the court’s service to the citizens of Queen Anne’s County, would often tell him, ‘... you da judge ... you are responsible for the administration of justice in QA County,’ that is rather sobering.”
A distinguished jurist once commented to Ross that in upholding the rule of law no one is above the law — and just as important — no one is beneath its protections. Ross said that collectively they are proud of the new courthouse and its full modern self-help center as part of family services, in addition to continuing to offer daily pro se clinics that also include evenings served by members of the bar.
“It has been truly a privilege to serve as judge of the Circuit Court of Queen Anne’s County,” said Ross, “In matters relating to the administration of justice, the community does look to the judge to facilitate and support change, whether that be in access to justice, promoting partnerships with bar associations, other agencies and organizations, local and regional programs, and supporting grant programs.”