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Judge France retiring this year

February 19, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County District Judge Ralph H. France II is retiring this year after nearly 14 years on the bench.

France, 67, said Thursday that April 30 will be his last day.

"I just felt it was time to retire ..." France said. "Sometimes, it's time to go."

He and his wife plan to move to northern Virginia to be near two of their three children. The couple's other child lives in Georgia.

Washington County already has a judicial vacancy. Frederick C. Wright III's circuit court seat has been open since September, when Wright turned 70, the state's mandatory retirement age.

On Jan. 15, Gov. Martin O'Malley interviewed the four circuit court finalists recommended by a local nominating commission. As of Thursday, O'Malley hadn't decided, according to Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for the governor.

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Nominations for France's district court seat will be accepted until March 16.

The judicial nominating commission then will review applications and interview candidates. It must forward at least three finalists to the governor.

France said he served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1969, then came to Hagerstown, not far from his wife's relatives in Marion, Pa.

France joined the law firm Ottinger, Mackley and Gilbert.

He served as Washington County government's attorney from 1989 to 1995, when he took the bench in district court.

France said the caseload was heavy, but he'll miss Judge Mark Thomas and the staff at district court.

"It's the friendliest group of people I've ever worked with," he said.

France said the Washington County Bar Association has known for four or five months that he would retire, but didn't know when. He expects plenty of applicants for the position.

Richard W. Douglas, president of the bar association, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

But Kirk C. Downey, president-elect and a member of the local judicial nomination commission, said France probably is correct, although he hadn't heard specifically of anyone planning to apply.

Eight people applied to replace Wright.

In 2005, when the state added a fifth circuit judge position in the county, six people applied.

M. Kenneth Long Jr. was picked, creating a vacancy in Long's position as a district judge.

Eleven people applied in 2006 for the district court seat. Thomas was chosen.

The salary for a district judge is $127,252.

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