The Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera ’75 will be awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters during the 149th Commencement ceremony for Towson University’s College of Liberal Arts on Wed., May 21 at 3 p.m.
Barbera, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, is the first woman to head Maryland’s highest court. She served as judge, 7th Appellate Judicial Circuit, Montgomery County, Md., for nearly five years before accepting Gov. Martin O’Malley’s appointment in 2013.
A Baltimore native who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Towson, Judge Barbera traces her career in public service to her eight years as a public school teacher at Patapsco Elementary School in the city’s Cherry Hill neighborhood. In the classroom she said she learned firsthand that “most laws are not abstractions, but rules whose application influences real people.”
She enrolled in law school in the late ’70s, pursuing a Juris Doctor degree at night while continuing to teach full time. In 1984, after graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law and being admitted to the Maryland Bar, she launched her career as an assistant attorney general (1985-89). She later served as deputy chief of the Criminal Appeals Division (1989-98), Office of the Attorney General. From 1998 to 2002, she provided legal counsel to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
She was judge of the Court of Special Appeals, at large, from January 2, 2002, to September 2, 2008. During her tenure she authored dozens of published opinions for the court. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals selected her to serve on the Judicial Ethics Committee and to chair the Criminal Law and Procedure Committee of the Maryland Judicial Conference.
Judge Barbera also has served on numerous committees of the Maryland State Bar Association, including the special committee on anti-discrimination matters and the standing committee to draft pattern jury instructions in criminal cases.
She has taught at the American University Washington College of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law. In 1998, the University of Baltimore School of Law honored her with an award for outstanding teaching by an adjunct faculty member.
Judge Barbera has been widely recognized for her leadership and commitment to public service. The Daily Record gave her the Maryland Leadership in Law Award in 2007 and in 2008 recognized her as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. The Maryland State Bar Association awarded her the Rita C. Davidson Award in 2011 and the Advancement of Professional Competence Award in 2012