IN CHAMBERS WITH JUDGE RUTH A. JAKUBOWSKI
Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Ruth Ann Jakubowski was born in Watertown, New York in 1953. She graduated cum laude from William Smith College in 1975, earned a Master in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Public Administration at Syracuse University in 1978 and a J.D. from Syracuse University School of Law in 1978. Judge Jakubowski was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1978. Before being appointed to the bench, she was in private practice from 1981 to 2002. Judge Jakubowski married in 1983 and has two sons.
Judge Jakubowski did not always want to pursue law. During her early years in college, Judge Jakubowski was a member of the “major of the month club” and was considering a career as a French or history teacher. In her junior year, she took a constitutional law class that sparked an interest to practice law. She was not a lawyer who always knew she wanted to be a judge. It was not until 2001, with four openings on the Baltimore County bench, that she considered leaving private practice to become a judge.
Her transition to the bench was aided by Judge Kathleen Gallogly Cox, who at the time had been a judge for three years. Judge Jakubowski credits Judge Cox with teaching her the ropes of the job, and assisting her with handling the stress that comes with the territory. With a smile, Judge Jakubowski recounted that sharing chambers with Judge Cox allowed them to gain “a great trust and respect” for one another, both professionally and personally.
Judge Jakubowski admires the women she regards as trailblazers of the bench, like United States Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Judge Jakubowski pays homage to them, “for without their tortured path” and “setting the bar” she would not be in the position she is today.
Judge Jakubowski said she has come to understand that temperament and intelligence are the most important traits a judge should possess: “Being a judge requires digesting complex areas of law. However, the law can be learned. Controlling temperament is more important in terms of character trait(s)…people-handling skills are more important than being able to recite law.”
Judge Jakubowski regards the most challenging aspect of her job to be trying to “understand the law and procedure in specialized cases.” She admits that it is “challenging to keep up on everything.[i]” In contrast to the specialized cases, Judge Jakubowski confesses that the “quickness with which the docket moves” and the “interest factor” of criminal law makes it her favorite.
After 13 years on the bench, the only things she misses about private practice are her partners from Dugan, Jakubowski, Babij & Spector, LLC. Judge Jakubowski conveys clearly that she truly loves her job. She said that she would not quit her job even if she won the lottery, but would travel more. An avid traveler, she has visited Israel, Paris, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Rome, Canada and Mexico.
When asked whether she was more of a big picture or detail oriented person, she replied “Both.” Making decisions as a lawyer or a judge, she explained, requires the ability to look at the big picture, but the “devil is in the details.” A good lawyer or judge, she said, must have a combination of both: Balance is required. She emphasized that “the big picture is important to the resolution of a case but the details are what get you there.”
Judge Jakubowski was asked the difference between a good lawyer and an exceptional lawyer. After a moment of introspection, she said, “Preparation and confidence are the two common factors in an attorney who can present a real articulate argument either written or orally. You must know your strengths as an attorney and play to them.”
She offers the following advice for all attorneys:
- Stand up when addressing the court. This applies to attorneys and parties.
- Do not read opening/closing. Refer to notes but do not read them.
- Do not be so tied to your outline of direct and cross examination that you fail to listen to the witness.
- Be nice to court staff. “You’d be surprised” she said, “how many rude attorneys are out here.”
- Know your judge. Do your homework and speak to the clerk before coming to court.
[i] Hint to lawyers: If you know your particular judge does not have experience in an area of law, prepare a memo to educate them. Most judges will read and research case issues, but preparing a memo will certainly help the perception a judge.