Makeba Gibbs, the founder of her own law firm in La Plata, is running for judge of the Charles County Circuit Court.
Gibbs, 49, a resident of La Plata and the second oldest of five siblings in a middle class home, learned the importance of education early in life. After receiving her Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law in 2003, Gibbs became licensed to practice law in Maryland, and has been for over 16 years.
Fairness, experience and justice are the three traits that Gibbs is pushing in her campaign for judge in the Maryland primary election — originally scheduled for April 28 — now set for June 2.
Gibbs, who has argued more than 40 jury and over 80 bench trial cases, told the Maryland Independent she knows what fairness looks like and plans on being a fair judge.
“Fairness comes with feeling like everyone should have their day in court. I am going to be the type of judge that listens to people,” Gibbs said. “I am not going to prejudge people based on how they look or how they dress.”
Gibbs is not a public defender. She has a private practice, so she has to manage her own office as a business.
“I have to do marketing on my own, I am managing my paralegal and I am doing payroll for her,” Gibbs said. “I have to do business and I have to do the legal work. The challenging part is managing my time.”
Her passion for law comes from starting her career as a law clerk in Washington, D.C., being close to the government, meeting lawyers and reading articles about law.
“It was very intriguing to me,” Gibbs said. “I have always been someone who believes in justice and equal rights. I have always been involved in politics. Even in high school I volunteered on different campaigns. It was kind of a natural thing for me to want to do.”
There is a lot of effort, time and balance that comes along with starting your own private practice, according to Gibbs; however, she stayed committed and focused on that goal through much adversity.
“I registered with the state of Maryland and could start taking clients immediately,” Gibbs said. “I was working with the public defenders office. I did not have a secretary or a paralegal right away, so I had to draft a lot of documents myself. I then hired my own paralegal so I could keep moving.”
Gibbs balances a delicate work-life schedule. Along with caring for and fostering seven children in the past, Gibbs sits on the board of directors for Point of Change Jail and Street Ministry, is the founding president of the Salome A. Howard Bar Association Inc. and is a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake. She ultimately adopted last year the seventh child she cared for as a foster parent and is now mother to a 19-month-old son.
“I was the president of the Charles County Bar Association. I was on the executive board for seven years. I really enjoyed being part of the bar. We would bring in speakers to talk on different areas of the law. I find that very interesting,” Gibbs said. “I started the Salome Howard Bar Association, I speak on various panels and I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. A lot of the things I am proud of have to do with giving back to the community.”
Her motivation comes from constantly getting calls.
“The work really drives itself, the phone rings consistently because people have issues. I am dealing with people’s problems a lot,” Gibbs said. “My son drives me now. Being a new mom, really give me more direction and passion. I pick him up by six every night. I have to cram a lot of work in to be able to spend time with him in the evening. I want to give him a better life.”
Although Gibbs has many accomplishments to this point in her career; however, there are many challenges she has faced — and still does — to achieve and maintain the position she is in professionally.
“I am still very close with my family,” Gibbs said. “My mom has some health issues. She has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I fly to Florida quite frequently to make sure things are set up with her. I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to manage that.”
Gibbs told the Maryland Independent that she is pulled in many different directions and keeping up with everything outside of work has “sharpened her legal skills” by forcing her to focus on time management.
“The practice of law is very time-consuming. The job itself can be very isolating. Emotionally it can take its toll. When I take clients, I have to do my due diligence,” Gibbs said. “Laws change quickly and I am in front of different judges. Getting up to speed with all the jurisdictions can be a challenge.”
There are some changes that Gibbs would like to see take place in Charles County. She said due to the abundance of cases in the county, there should be another judge or two.
“I think they really need one or two more judges. That is something I see on the horizon,” Gibbs said. “There are five now; they can definitely move up to seven if you look at the number of judges in relation to the population. Court efficiency is important to keep the cases moving along.”
Gibbs also wants to see more rehabilitation and wellness facilities as an alternative to sending people to jail or prison. She said she wants there to bring more of a focus on mental health and recovery.
“I am really pushing for a mental health court. St. Mary’s County has a mental health court in the district court,” Gibbs said. “I don’t see why there isn’t a drug court. A drug court gives judges — as an alternative to prison — the ability to put them in a program. You apply to get in and it has to be a non-violent offense. It is an approach to rehabilitation. If they follow the protocol, they come back to court, and if they are doing well, it is possible for them to avoid a prison sentence.”
Gibbs — whose father is a Vietnam War veteran — is an advocate for a veterans’ court. A veterans’ court is a court specifically for veterans that provides resources and support for those in the criminal justice system.
“There was a veteran that I represented when I was with the public defenders office who was facing some time for a theft, and he committed suicide,” Gibbs said. “It was something that has stayed with me, especially given the fact that my dad is a veteran. They have a difficult time coming back and getting re-acclimated. They may fall into addiction or homelessness. It is a huge problem. It would be nice if the county has one.”
She said it is not as simple as saying you want it, there has to be proper funding. It has to be pushed for and approved by the judiciary in Annapolis.
Gibbs has resided over many different areas of the law, criminal and civil; which is where the experience comes from in her motto. This is what she believes makes her the best fit for the position.
“In the criminal side, I have done cases as serious as murder and rape and as minor as shoplifting,” Gibbs said. “On the civil side I have done divorces, wills, estates and child support.”
She ran for the position in 2018 and was short by 315 votes. Although she was not elected, Gibbs believes she has all of the qualifications and experience necessary in order to best serve Charles County.
“I was recommended for the position after a thorough process,” Gibbs said. “I met with Governor Hogan. I have been before the Judicial Nominating Commission on three occasions and was recommended for the position. I was vetted, but you have to be vetted twice. I definitely have the experience.”
Justice — the final part of her motto — comes from her belief in the Judiciary not only reflecting it by race, but by experience and background.
“Every judge is going to bring something different to the job,” Gibbs said. “I am not going to come to the bench and think I am better than people because I am wearing a robe. I don’t believe in that. People come from dysfunction and find their way into court. A judge should really be focused on doing what is right and fair. That is what justice looks like to me.”
Along with Gibbs, Adrienne Davis is also in the race to unseat Circuit Court Judge Patrick Devine in the June 2 primary election.