COSA Spotlight: The Honorable E. Gregory Wells
In late February, we sat down via zoom with Judge Gregory Wells, to learn more about him, his path to the bench and his chambers in Prince Frederick. What we did not know at that time, was that Governor Hogan was preparing to announce, the day after our interview, that he is appointing Judge Wells to be the next Chief Judge of the court. In that role, he will succeed Chief Judge Matthew Fader, who will be elevated to the Court of Appels in April. That we were able to profile Judge Wells at such a moment was, in a word often and graciously used by him in this interview, “serendipitous.”
Tell us about your background, and how you decided to go to law school.
I grew up in Prince George’s County and went to high school in Washington, DC, at Gonzaga College High School. I commuted into the city with my parents. My Dad was a DC high school principal and my Mom worked for the Federal Government. After school, my sister and I took the city bus down H Street to Oklahoma Avenue, where my grandmother lived and spent the afternoons with her. So, we got the best of both worlds, we got to live in the city with my grandmother and be with my parents in the evenings and on the weekend. My grandma really helped raise my sister and me.
I was probably a nerd in high school and then in college. I got all my reports done, well in advance. At the College of William & Mary, while I was sitting up working at my desk, my roommate asked – “What are you doing? You should be out partying.” But I really enjoyed Williamsburg and still do.
At William & Mary, my professor George W. Grayson was instrumental in helping me decide to go to law school. He was a great guy, an expert in Mexican politics and served in the Virginia House of Delegates. He understood my interest in public service, and convinced me that law could be a path that I could make some money and make a difference.
Once I got to law school (at the University of Virginia), I just really had a very good experience and met a lot of great folks who have been friends of mine since.
After UVA Law, how did you return to Maryland, and then Calvert County, to practice law?
In law school, I got a sense that I was cut out for something other than the big law path that a lot of my friends were on. I wanted to be in the courtroom. I liked connecting with people. I started with a local law firm in Upper Marlboro doing insurance defense work when I got a call from the State’s Attorney’s Office in Prince George’s County. I interviewed , got hired and was in the courtroom pretty much the same day. The transition was serendipitous, and the State’s Attorney at that time, Alexander Williams, Jr. (who later became a federal judge), has been my mentor and supporter ever since. I cannot thank him enough.
In the mid-90s, I was accepted into the JSD program at UC Berkeley Law. I even had a faculty advisor there and planned to write my thesis on prison reform. I also received an offer from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
But I turned both of these opportunities down, when I received a call from Bob Riddle, who had just been elected Calvert County State’s Attorney. I had just moved to the county two months before. He asked me to be his deputy. It was serendipity again.
And since then, I’ve been an advocate on different levels, family law magistrate, and trial judge.
Would you share some best practice tips for litigants?
I wish all attorneys would consider Rule 8-111(b) and use alternative and consistent references for the parties. Rather than referring to one party as the “defendant” and later the “appellant,” use a consistent reference – Use “buyer” and “seller,” or “husband” and “wife.”
You don’t need to use all your oral argument time. If you’ve made your point, and nobody is asking you questions, that’s a pretty good signal that you’ve done your job and you can sit down now.
What is the importance of oral argument?
The briefs are important, but oral argument can be persuasive, especially if you tailor your argument to the specific issue. You can assume that every judge on the panel has read the briefs. Focus on the main argument.
Tell us about your Chambers in Prince Frederick.
I have had the same administrative assistant who has been with me since I was a magistrate. She does an outstanding job.
I have two term law clerks, who each serve one year. We collaborate. When the cases come in, I allow them to work on the ones that interest them. We review each draft together. They are free to tear up my draft and be candid. I want them to have initiative, to challenge me and know that I will challenge them, and ultimately this is a collaborative effort. For my law clerks, Prince Frederick is a nice place to live and work. It is a long way to come from D.C. or Baltimore, but the pace of life is slower. You get the experience of being here in our courthouse, where you get to see people and watch cases. I encourage my law clerks to go and watch trials, so they can understand how the sausage is made before it gets to us. I also make it clear to my law clerks that there is a life outside of court and it is really important that you have some balance in your life. I do not want them chained to their desks.
We would like to thank Judge Wells, now Chief Judge- Designate Wells, for allowing us to interview him, and look forward to interviewing more judges in the near future.