ANNAPOLIS — Family, friends, colleagues, state lawmakers and active and retired judges filled the Maryland House of Delegates chamber Thursday afternoon for the investiture of Easton attorney Brynja McDivitt Booth as a judge on the state’s highest court.
The largely joyful and occasionally emotional ceremony recognized Booth’s legal career of more than two decades and the legal acumen and character that led to her appointment to the Maryland Court of Appeals by Gov. Larry Hogan.
The ceremony also was a family affair. Booth’s husband Curt — her high school sweetheart, longtime marathon partner and one of her law partners — and their children, Henry and Katherine, performed the ceremonial robing.
Booth’s father and three sisters were among other family members in attendance. One of her sisters, the Rev. Dr. Heather McDivitt, a Protestant minister and philosophy professor at St. Bonaventure University in New York, delivered the invocation.
In her comments, Judge Booth struggled to speak through tears as she talked about the influence of her father and her mother, who died in 1991.
“Of course none of this would be possible without my family, my father Boyce McDivitt and my sisters Amy, Heather and Molly and their families are here today. My mother Kathryn passed away in 1991.
“My parents taught us the value of hard work and showed us what a partnership was supposed to look like,” she said.
Her father, the local dentist, “taught my sisters and me to use our profession in a manner to give back to the community,” Booth said through tears. “Whether it was traveling to Honduras with my mom to perform dental work or running a free dental clinic one Saturday a month for members of the community who could not afford to pay.
“Dad, I wouldn’t be here without you and Mom.
Booth said her proudest accomplishment is being a mother to Henry, 16, and Katherine, 14.
She saved her final comments for her husband Curt.
He asked her out on June 8, 1988, shortly before the prom, and they have been together for 31 years — through high school, college, law school and 22 years of working together at their law firm.
“And let’s not forget, probably most importantly, he’s also my marathon partner,” Booth said. “Curt Booth, I wouldn’t be standing here if not for your support and our partnership and I’m looking forward to running many more miles with you.”
Booth closed by paraphrasing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody — a parent, a teacher, a mentor or a friend — bent down and helped us pick up our boots.
“I want to thank you all for helping me pick up mine. I will hard to earn the profound privilege that Gov. Hogan has given to me each and every day.”
Booth spoke earlier about her legal career in Talbot County and on the Eastern Shore.
“... (M)y first job on the Shore was clerking for the Honorable William S. Horne. I learned so much from Judge Horne that year. His knowledge of the law is vast and he has an incredible work ethic,” Booth said. “In a one-judge county, Judge Horne spent many weekends and evenings in the courthouse. It was from Judge Horne that I first learned I was passionate about writing and legal research.
After her clerkship, Booth said she practiced law for 22 years with some of the best lawyers in the state.
Booth said it was “bittersweet” to leave her law firm and her clients.
“I will be eternally thankful to Roy Cowdrey and David Thompson for hiring me at Cowdrey Thompson all those years ago.
“It’s not common that you practice law for an entire career in the first place you land, but we did. My firm was like family.
“Practicing law with Roy and Dave was never boring,” she said. “A typical Saturday on a cold, blustery January morning might include trudging around the boundaries of an old public landing while tracing the title back to a pre-Revolutionary land patent in your muck boots because David Thompson believed you could never give proper legal advice about a property unless you saw it and walked it.
Booth said many lawyers recall the first deposition they attended, but “not for my reasons.”
“Roy asked me to attend a deposition with him one day at Easton hospital,” she said.
He wasn’t in the office that morning and asked Booth to meet him in the driveway.
“I climbed into his old rusty pickup truck in my suit and he sat behind the wheel dressed head to toe in camouflage, having just come from the duck blind.
“We walked into the deposition at the hospital, me in my suit and Roy in his full camo attire, including his hat of course. Thankfully, he did leave his gun in the car.
“Opposing counsel were from Baltimore and I’m sure they did not know what to make of Roy Cowdrey or his outfit, other than to likely underestimate him.”
Horne and Cowdrey were among several people who spoke Thursday during Booth’s investiture ceremony.
Now that he’s “almost retired,” Horne said he has the free time to attend ceremonies for new judges.
“It is with particular great honor for me to be here today ... as we celebrate the career of an extraordinarily talented legal professional,” someone he counts as a colleague “and very good friend,” Horne said.
“I was confident when Brynja was appointed to the bench she had the discipline and the drive to excel at such a demanding position,” Horne said. “I believe that being a good judge requires knowledge of the law, the rules of evidence and procedure, an even temperament, immense patience, appreciation for the role of the attorney, the customs of practice, life experiences, empathy, listening skills, and more.
“Judge Booth possesses all these qualities,” he said.
“Look at the qualities that Brynja brings to her new calling: The inquiring mind of a scholar, the compassionate heart of a counselor, the patient soul of a mentor, the silver tongue of an advocate, the fluent hand of a drafter.
“These qualities will enable Judge Booth to analyze the tangled problems presented to the court, to understand the human conditions that produce them, to hear and respect the arguments of counsel, to persuade her colleagues to agree with her reasoning, and to inspire those who study her opinions.”
“Brynja, as someone who considers you family, I love you like family and I am proud of you. You will be a great judge. And so, Brynja Booth, your old boss wishes you much happiness and success as you move to the bench. Although you were my law clerk, I have always learned more from you than you from me. As such, I am grateful to you ... and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
After her clerkship, Booth joined her husband at the Easton law firm of Cowdrey and Thompson.
Roy Cowdrey said the firm had hired Curt out of law school and “Brynja came to Talbot County to clerk for Judge Horne.... (W)e put out an offer to hire her at the end of her clerkship. We’ve been twice blessed.
“From the moment she started with us, she participated meaningfully in appellate work, dozens of briefs for the Court of Appeals, the Court of Special Appeals,” Cowdrey said. “Recognizing her work ethic and legal aptitude, we made her partner in three years.
“She brings a seasoned appellate litigator’s perspective to the court and a wealth of experience from a private practitioner’s point of view,” he said.
Booth’s general practice focused on municipal, real estate, and zoning law and she was representing six Eastern Shore towns when she was appointed to the court.
“This municipal practice required many, many nights away from home. I told her to ‘hang in, there’d be a good day job somewhere down the road,’” Cowdrey said.
He said Booth volunteers at her children’s school, Mid Shore Pro Bono, the Waterfowl Festival, is active at her church, and, “in her spare time, she runs marathons.”
Gov. Larry Hogan made a few remarks before swearing Booth into office.
“Thank you all for being here as we celebrate the investiture of Judge Brynja McDivitt Booth to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
“As governor, I’ve had the privilege of celebrating the investiture of a number of judges. And each time, I am reminded of and moved by the rich history and the proud tradition of Maryland’s judicial system, particularly of our highest court, the Court of Appeals, which has the awesome responsibility of deciding the most important, the most far-reaching cases in our state.
“And knowing the importance of that legacy of the Court of Appeals, I have every confidence that it’s newest member, ... Judge Brynja Booth, will make an excellent addition to the bench.
“Throughout her entire career, Judge Booth has displayed an exemplary knowledge and respect of the law and unwavering integrity and a devotion to the people of Maryland, particularly Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“It is clear to me that Judge Booth not only has the ability, the temperament and the judgment for this role, but also that she will bring an invaluable and unique perspective to Maryland’s highest court.
“And so on behalf of all the people of Maryland, I extend my most sincere congratulations to Judge Brynja Booth on earning this very well-deserved honor .... Judge Booth, I have the utmost confidence that you will serve the citizens of the great state of Maryland with honor and distinction on the Court of Appeals and I just want to say congratulations, your Honor, and thank you for your service.
Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, thanked Hogan for Booth’s appointment and welcomed Booth to the state’s highest court.
“It will not likely be a surprise to those of you who know Judge Booth well, that she has been hard at work since she was privately sworn in by the governor in April. That hard work shows, ladies and gentlemen. Judge Booth has already demonstrated the qualities and skills that my colleagues and I could only hope for in a member of the court — a love of the law, intellectual rigor, collegiality, a mutual respect for colleagues when minds my differ, and a commitment, ultimately a commitment, to serve the people of Maryland.”
Booth represents the 1st Appellate Circuit, which includes Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester counties, on the Court of Appeals.
An attorney and shareholder of Booth, Booth, Cropper & Marriner, P.C., in Easton, Booth was the president of the Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association and is a frequent speaker on appellate practice and land use. She has represented the towns of Oxford, Trappe, Greensboro, Goldsboro, Federalsburg and Queenstown on the Mid-Shore.
Booth received her bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University, cum laude, and her J.D. from Washington and Lee University School of Law, cum laude.