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Gov. O'Malley Appoints First Ever Woman Chief Judge

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Unprecedented changes in the making for Maryland's highest court.

Pat Warren explains how one judge's retirement makes state history.

The Maryland Court of Appeals is in line to get its first woman chief judge.

Governor Martin O'Malley announced Wednesday the appointment of Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. Judge Barbera is to fill the position held by Chief Judge Robert Bell, who is required by law to resign his post at age 70.

"Judge Mary Ellen Barbera is an educator, she is an attorney, she is a public servant, she is a jurist of the utmost intelligence, integrity, impartiality and ability," Governor O'Malley said by way of introduction. "And she is going to be an outstanding Chief Judge."

Judge Barbera told WJZ, " I can imagine no greater honor than the one that has been given to me by our fine Governor Martin O'Malley."

Barbera has been on the bench of the state's highest court since 2008.

"I have had extraordinary opportunity these last five years to witness first hand the leadership of a true visionary," she said of Judge Bell.

Governor O'Malley also appointed Judge Shirley Watts to the Court of Appeals.

"She also will happen to be the first African-American woman to ever serve on our highest court, the Court of Appeals," said O'Malley.

Judge Watts called the appointment a great honor.

"We want to thank Governor O'Malley for his confidence and for the appointments," said Judge Watts. "Governor O'Malley has set a precedent for the state of Maryland that will endure forever."

Judge Robert Bell, who turns 70 on July 6, told WJZ he is happy with the transition.

"I know Judge Barbera is going to do well and take it to new heights let's say," he said. "And Judge Watts has shown herself to be capable of handling anything she puts her mind to and she's going to fit right in."

Both appointments have to be confirmed by the Maryland Senate.

Governor O'Malley's appointments also create a female majority on the seven member bench, with four women and three men.

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