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Charles County Circuit Judge Jerome R. Spencer finished out his last day as a county prosecutor before taking the oath of office Wednesday, filling the vacancy left in March by the retirement of former Judge Steven G. Chappelle.

The new judge pledged punctuality in keeping to his daily court docket, diligence in delivering quick judgments, thorough explanations of his decisions and “100 percent attention and devotion to your case.”

After taking his oath during an investiture ceremony at the county government building in La Plata, Spencer said he viewed a jurist’s role as upholding society’s balance between “tyranny and anarchy.”

“We can’t have a society where the executive branch, the dictators if you will, lock people up because they feel like it,” he said. “We also can’t have a society where people who do bad things go free.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) appointed Spencer last month.

Spencer joined the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor in 1998 and has served as deputy state’s attorney since 2004. His case loads have included homicides and felony fraud, along with civil forfeiture actions and extradition matters. He earned his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.

He beat out Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth D. Theobalds and private attorneys Patrick J. Devine and Thomas R. Simpson Jr., who were all selected by the county’s judicial nominating committee in June from a pool of seven applicants.

Spencer will spend the coming weeks training and observing his new colleagues before officially assuming the bench.

“The county is now being blessed with a great jurist,” Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) said.

Covington said Spencer “has already put our office on notice at our last staff meeting, as he put it, ‘you better bring your A-game when you’re in front of me,’” adding that the new judge had a “unique mind for the law” and “great judgment” that would suit him well on the bench.

“Some people are given certain gifts, and they work hard to perfect those gifts so they can perform a certain job,” Covington said. “Charles County is in great hands.”

Covington also told the story of how, within a week of his rejoining the state’s attorney’s office in 2003 as a prosecutor, Spencer left a “totally innocuous” note asking his newest co-worker for a favor.

Covington, admitting he was a “bit of a jerk,” wrote back, “Jerome, there are only three people on the planet that can tell me to do anything: my boss, my mother and my wife, and you aren’t one of them. Please work in a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’ when you ask me to do things.”

But the state’s attorney said he would now “proudly and gladly” add Spencer to the “list of people that can tell me what to do.”

Covington said after the ceremony that his office had recently hired some new prosecutors and that he preferred to let his staff ascend naturally, rather than rush a promotion to fill Spencer’s spot alongside Deputy State’s Attorney Karen R. Piper.

Spencer noted a number of special guests who had meant a great deal to him both professionally and personally, including the Rev. Rebecca Iannicelli of Community United Methodist Church in Crofton, who read the invocation and benediction.

A former Charles County prosecutor, Iannicelli spent her last couple of days with the state’s attorney’s office training Spencer in 1998.

“I got her office. I got her phone extension,” Spencer said.

Donning a ball cap and tropical shirt, retired Circuit Judge Christopher C. Henderson — for whom Spencer clerked for a year before joining the state’s attorney’s office in 1998 — sent his congratulations via a video recorded from a beach on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

He called Chappelle a “role model” and praised new Calvert County Circuit Judge E. Gregory Wells, whom O’Malley appointed the same day as Spencer.

“To have my name linked with his is another honor,” Spencer said.

Spencer choked up briefly while thanking his family but followed it up with the best zinger of the ceremony.

“I feel like John Boehner,” he quipped, in reference to the U.S. House majority leader, who’s been oft-mocked for getting emotional during speeches.

Spencer is the county’s 18th resident judge since 1790.

After taking his oath, Spencer donned his judicial robe with the help of his wife, Cathy, and two young daughters, Daphne and Sabrina.

jnewman@somdnews.com