COSA Spotlight: Judge Andrea Leahy

By Steve Klepper and Diane Feuerherd

Continuing our series profiling members of the Court of Special Appeals, we interviewed Judge Andrea Leahy, one of the eight At-Large Judges of our intermediate appellate court, in her chambers on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis.

Path to the Appellate Bench

As an only child who debated cases with her father (Vincent Leahy, Jr., Esq.) at the dinner table, one would think that Judge Leahy’s path to the legal profession, and further to the bench, was inevitable. But her early interests were also in music, as a classically-trained pianist. At Catholic University, she pursued a double undergraduate major in politics and music – a “split personality,” as she called it – that engaged her continued curiosity in the law but initially steered her to become a concert pianist and guest student at the Mozarteum Academy of Music in Salzburg, Austria after graduation.

Ultimately, she chose to step away from the piano full time, in favor of law school. She found that solo performances at the piano, unlike an orchestra, could be too isolating and not conducive to her collaborative personality. Still, her passion in music continued. During the summer after her first year at the American University, Washington College of Law, she decided to forgo applying for the Law Review in favor of continued study with Bela Nagy and piano performances in Oregon and Washington D.C. After law school, Judge Leahy took the next year to raise her newborn daughter (who, along with a second daughter, inherited their mother’s musical interests and play the violin and cello).

Judge Leahy then joined the Prince George’s County Office of Law, starting in the Code Enforcement Division. She credits hard work and a drive to make a positive difference for leading her to advance in that office and beyond, by successfully arguing precedential zoning cases, such as Prince George’s County v. Sunrise Development Ltd. Partnership, 330 Md. 297 (1993), being promoted to lead counsel of the County’s Department of Environmental Resources and then being appointed Senior Legal Counsel and Director of the Office of Legal Counsel for Governor Paris Glendening. With Governor Glendening, she learned the policy side of the law, taking on a variety of issues, including smart growth, gun control and smoking legislation, along with revamping the judicial nominating process to promote greater diversity (for more on this, see her article, “How One State Enhanced Diversity on the Bench – The Merit Selection Process in Maryland,” in the ABA’s November 2009 Judge’s Journal).

The depth and breadth of her experience continued to grow throughout her career, including service as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore, private practice in a large law firm, and then opening her own small firm with a focus on intellectual property, construction and employment law. In 2014, Judge Leahy was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals by Governor Martin O’Malley.

Now that she sits on the Court of Special Appeals, Judge Leahy sometimes sits with senior judges sitting by designation. They include two of her mentors and dear friends, Senior Judges Irma Raker and Lynne Battaglia. Judge Leahy considers it a special occasion when she has an opportunity to serve on a panel with them.

Law Clerks and Chambers

Judge Leahy tackles the Court of Special Appeals’s volume of work with a team approach in her chambers. She has 3 law clerks – a “senior” clerk who serves several years and two “term” clerks who serve for approximately one year – unlike some of her colleagues who have a judicial assistant and two law clerks. The judge involves all three law clerks in the preparation, review and finalization of each opinion. Judge Leahy and her clerks are a team, and even run together after work. She noted that her clerks are far better than she is at running and talking at the same time, meaning she does a lot of listening during her runs.

The term law clerks are hired annually. Rather than setting an application deadline, Judge Leahy collects applications throughout the year and interviews candidates as needed and time provides. Drawing from her own law school experience, she does not require her law clerks to be on Law Review, but her interview does include a timed writing sample exercise. It is important that her law clerks have enthusiasm and curiosity for the law, as well as organization in their writing.

When asked for a pointer for attorneys who practice before the Court of Special Appeals, Judge Leahy suggested more user-friendly record extracts. A table of contents is much more useful if, consistent with Rule 8-501(h)’s requirement that the table of contents “identify each document by a descriptive phrase including any exhibit number,” parties provide more detail than the exhibit numbers.

In Judge Leahy’s chambers, the furnishings compliment her background. Her bookshelves are stocked with music CDs, not just Maryland Reporters and Maryland Appellate Reporters. In an unusual office set up, Judge Leahy has a music keyboard where many attorneys or judges would have a credenza.

We thank Judge Leahy for providing us with her time and background. Stay tuned for more interviews in the future.

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