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Life After the Bench: An Interview with Retired Judge Diane O. Leasure

Justice Matters had a unique opportunity to talk with Judge Diane O. Leasure, who retired from the bench several years before Maryland law would require her to. She is taking on new challenges, and here she discusses “life after the bench” and reflects on the challenges and rewards of serving as a judge.

Retired Judge Diane O. Leasure and Chief Judge Robert M. Bell
Retired Judge Diane O. Leasure and
Chief Judge Robert M. Bell

Your first career was not as a lawyer. Why did you want to be a judge? How did you make that decision?
I didn’t know any lawyers growing up in Western Maryland, so law wasn’t on my “radar screen” as a career option when I went to college. It was only after having obtained my master’s degree and while a faculty member at Rutgers University – Cook College that I considered going back to school for my law degree. It was the absolute right decision. I was admitted to practice almost 30 years ago and have derived tremendous satisfaction from my chosen profession over the years.

The road to the bench was a more direct route. I was a trial attorney for the 13 years I was in private practice doing primarily business and construction litigation and realized fairly early on that I wanted to serve the public as a judge someday. I have always loved the chemistry of the courtroom and knew that I would enjoy experiencing it from the other side of the bench. Being a judge has been both personally and professionally fulfilling. I have enjoyed the variety of cases over which I have presided as well as the legal challenges that have been presented to me to resolve.

What surprised you the most about being a judge?
That people actually laugh at my jokes! Telling jokes with the appropriate “flair” required to recount them successfully has never been one of my greatest strengths -- I also tend to forget the punch lines.

What are the high points of your Judiciary career?
I will always be indebted to Chief Judge Bell for the enormous confidence he placed in me when he appointed me as the county administrative judge and the circuit administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. With these appointments came the opportunity to develop and enhance my leadership skills. I thoroughly enjoyed my terms as a member of the Conference of Circuit Judges and was honored to serve as one of its chairs. I have immensely enjoyed working on the case time standards and access rules committees from their inception and learned much about case management in the process. The true benefit of these activities was having the honor of serving with so many dedicated and talented members of the Judiciary and administrative staff. The friendships made along the way are both deep and lasting.

I have also enjoyed the many opportunities I have had to be a speaker at bar association events and for community groups. I firmly believe that educating the public about the court system and the rule of law is critical to the public’s trust and confidence in the Judiciary.

Retired Judge Diane O. Leasure
Retired Judge Diane O. Leasure
What did you like most about the job and what will you miss?
I have immensely enjoyed the day-to-day interaction with my colleagues and the bar and will truly miss that aspect of my job. I also thoroughly enjoyed being involved in court management on both the local and the state level. Additionally, I would be remiss in not highlighting my love of being a trial judge and observing the trials and tribulations of everyday life being played out in the courtroom. I am looking forward to working as a recalled judge and continuing to preside over cases in the circuit courts.

What did you like the least?
As a result of the difficult economic times our nation and state have experienced, I did not enjoy the fact that the hard-working staff in our courthouse (as well as others across the state) lost income as a result of necessary furloughs. Although I recognize this was a difficult leadership decision, it was hard knowing the tremendous hardship this caused our judicial employees and their families.

What prompted your decision to move on?
I feel quite fortunate to have been able to fulfill my full 15-year judicial term and to leave the active Judiciary with the expectation that I have many more years ahead of me to devote to making contributions to the Judiciary and the legal profession as a whole. I feel doubly fortunate that I will be able to continue working on my off-the-bench priorities – most notably the MSBA’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland (CLREP) program. I am also honored that I was appointed by the Governor to serve as the chair of the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy.

Part of my decision to leave at the end of my term was the offer I received from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law to assume the position of senior judicial fellow and lecturer, commencing January 2012, upon Judge John Fader’s retirement from that position. I have been an adjunct faculty member at the law school for the past five years and have loved teaching there. I am looking forward to this new opportunity with great anticipation.

Additionally, I am grateful that the Court of Appeals approved my request to be designated as a recalled judge on a statewide basis. I am looking forward to continuing to do what I have loved doing for the past 16 years – being a judge. I am also looking forward to participating in the Court of Special Appeals’ mediation program and to conducting private mediations and arbitrations upon request.

What are your next goals?
I have set both professional and personal goals for myself to celebrate this new phase of my life. First and foremost, I plan to continue working on a full-time basis. I don’t think “slowing down” is part of my DNA and I am looking forward to the variety of professional activities that the future holds.

On the personal side, I plan to pursue my photography hobby by continuing to take photography courses. I also love to travel and hope to do more of it in the future with my camera “in hand”. Another goal is to complete the “Children and Divorce” book that I started to write several years ago.

What haven’t we asked that you would like to answer?
The past 16 years have been amazing and I feel so fortunate that I was able to spend them serving the public as a judge. The Maryland Judiciary is second to none and I am truly honored to be included within its ranks.