This story was corrected on April 21, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
When families are at war, it’s Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joan E. Ryon’s job to make sure it ends with a resolution that’s best for the child.
“To minimize the trauma for her at this point,” Ryon said. “Her family’s broken up, her parents are at war. I mean, they’re litigating, they’re stressed out, they’re spending money they shouldn’t. They’re arguing over whether she can go to dad’s Saturday night or if it’s mom’s turn.”
These are the types of cases Ryon, 54, of Gaithersburg, oversees as a circuit judge. Her appointment by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2013 is a culmination of the nearly three decades she spent handling family law-related cases as an attorney and as a family division master for Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Ryon hopes to remain a judge after Election Day.
Ryon will be among the four sitting circuit judges on the June 24 primary ballot in June. The judges — Ryon, Gary E. Bair, Audrey A. Creighton, Nelson W. Rupp Jr. are running as a team against Poolesville attorney Daniel P. Connell. Voters will narrow the field of five down to four, for four judge seats.
It’s the first time in 10 years the Montgomery County circuit judge elections have been contested.
“Most people don’t even expect to see a judge’s name on there or to have a choice,” Ryon said. “We’re not an anyone’s radar screen. In my case, I would hope [voters] could feel comfortable voting for me because of the experience I’ve had, because I’ve proven an ability to be fair and impartial in a courtroom and make decisions promptly.”
Ryon, whose first name is pronounced like Joanne, was raised in Montgomery County. She is a graduate of Sherwood High School and she earned her law degree from Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 1983.
Ryon spent most of the early 1980s working at small firms, doing contractual work for the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office on the side to get more experience in the courtroom.
She was hired as an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery County in 1986, representing people in child support and paternity-related hearings. Her role broadened in 1994, when she was appointed as a master for paternity and child support proceedings, which meant she reviewed the facts of people’s cases, made recommendations and proposed orders for the court. In 2000, she was named master of the Circuit Court’s family division, bringing even more family-law related matters onto her turf.
But Ryon said she reached a point where she wanted more. She applied for judgeship twice prior to her appointment as an associate Circuit Court judge in 2013.
“I had been doing it [working as a master] for nine years and there really weren’t any challenges anymore,” Ryon said. “The fact patterns vary, but the law is what it is. Applying the same law for nine years in a fairly limited arena, I felt like I was ready to be challenged a little bit more.
“So the next logical step at that point, if I wanted to keep hearing cases and resolving them, was to broaden the scope of what I heard and go outside of the master’s office. The only real option was the bench.”
She said she hopes voters will give her the chance to continue her role as a judge after the November 2014 elections.
“I think judges bring life experience with them to the bench,” Ryon said. “When a judge says they’re going to do everything they can with a completely open mind, that’s absolutely true. But an open mind doesn’t mean you’re a blank slate.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to when Ryon was appointed Circuit Court judge.