Kirk Downey to replace slain Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has named Washington County government attorney Kirk C. Downey to the circuit court bench to fill the vacancy created by the recent death of Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson.

Downey and Wilkinson were friends and had worked together for several years.

"I am honored and humbled that the gov appointed me to this position and enabled me to continue to serve the people of Washington County," Downey told The Herald-Mail.

He said the date for his investiture has not yet been set.

Downey was one of four people whose names were forwarded to the governor by the Judicial Nominating Commission earlier this month. Moore made the announcement Monday morning.

"This is a bittersweet moment," Moore said in a prepared statement. "Today, we thank and celebrate Kirk C. Downey for raising his hand to serve. The Washington County Circuit Court has gained a talented legal mind and a faithful officer of the law. At the same time, we also remember the life and legacy of Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was taken from us far too soon. Judge Wilkinson made our state more fair and more just — and now, it’s up to us to stand together to carry forward his work."

Downey and Jason Morton were automatically entered in the applicants pool because their names were forwarded to the governor as candidates for the last open judgeship, David Harbin, president of the Washington County Bar Association, has said. Morton later withdrew his candidacy, leaving five applicants.

The governor needed to make an appointment before the Feb. 9 candidacy deadline for the 2024 election.

Downey will need to run in the 2024 election to have the opportunity to maintain the seat. Whoever wins that election will serve a 15-year term, according to the Maryland Judiciary's communications office.

The other nominees submitted by the local Judicial Nominating Commission were Loren Villa, an assistant public defender; Travis Poole, an assistant attorney general handling cases for the Washington County Department of Social Services; and Amy Gibson, who has a Hagerstown family law practice.

5 applicants for Washington County judgeship left vacant with Andrew Wilkinson's death

Who is Kirk Downey?

Downey has been with county government for 18 years, starting as an assistant county attorney in August 2005, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He has been the county attorney since December 2018.

Downey served as interim county administrator from November 2019 to December 2020.

He had a private practice from 1997 to 2005, according to a biography posted on the county's website. He did a significant amount of criminal defense, the governor's announcement noted, including appointed work on behalf of the Public Defender’s Office. He also represented individuals in consumer bankruptcy cases, employment law disputes, protective order and peace order hearings, and handled small business matters and general civil litigation.

Downey earned his juris doctorate from the University of Richmond School of Law in 1997 and was admitted to the Maryland Bar that same year, according to his county biography. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1994.

Judgeship left vacant after Wilkinson's murder

The judgeship has been vacant since Oct. 19, when Wilkinson, 52, was found shot in the driveway of his home north of Hagerstown.

Authorities found the remains of the suspect in the attack, Pedro Argote, 49, of Frederick, Md., a week later on private property used for hunting, in an area near and east of the Pinesburg softball complex, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office. That area is northwest of Williamsport.

Stephanie Wilkinson helps her husband, Andrew, put on his judge's robes during the Jan. 10, 2020, investiture ceremony for the new Washington County Circuit Court judge.
Stephanie Wilkinson helps her husband, Andrew, put on his judge's robes during the Jan. 10, 2020, investiture ceremony for the new Washington County Circuit Court judge.

“I am very grateful of Gov. Moore’s support for this community after the tragic circumstances that led to the need for this judicial appointment, and, for the professional and thoughtful manner in which he and his team completed an accelerated selection process," said Washington County Circuit Administrative Judge Brett Wilson.

"Kirk Downey has served his community in many ways during his professional career and will continue to do so as a Judge of the Circuit Court.  I look forward to working with him as a colleague on this judicial bench," Wilson said.

Downey worked with Wilkinson for six years in the county attorney's office and they'd known each other for a long time.

Speaking of Wilkinson after his death, Downey told The Herald-Mail, ""He was easygoing, he was respectful, down to earth. He had common sense. And he was a really good friend."

"I'm gonna miss him and the contributions he made to the community, and the contributions he would have made in the future," Downey said.

Staff writer Tamela Baker contributed to this article.

Hunt for suspect in judge's murder ends when body found near Williamsport

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: County attorney appointed to fill vacancy left by murdered judge