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The final year of Robert M. Bell's tenure as chief judge of Maryland's top court began Friday, when he turned 69 in a state where the constitution requires jurists to retire at 70.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell has served on the Court of Appeals since 1991 and has led it since 1996.

Thus, the clock has started for Gov. Martin O'Malley to name the first new Court of Appeals chief judge since 1996.

"A year out is not too early at all to be thinking of this (appointment), because others are," said Parris N. Glendening, the former Maryland governor who appointed Bell chief judge 16 years ago. "Of all the various appointments that I made, that was the one that was most intensely lobbied, discussed."

The intensity is strong because the opportunity is so rare.


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