America TonightMon-Fri 9:30pm ET/6:30pm PT
Mark Gail/The Washington Post

Exclusive: Meet the Maryland judge who could be a '16 first lady contender

Katie O'€™Malley hasn't been publicly active in her governor husband's political career, but 2016 might change that

With his recent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and meetings with top Democratic donors, all signs indicate Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will challenge Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

Catherine O’Malley responded to questions about her possible future as the nation’s first lady with the practiced grace of a politician’s wife.

“I'm not sure what's going to happen in the future,” she said. “But I'm hoping that whatever does happen I'll be able to adjust and hopefully do as well as I did here.”

If her husband runs, Katie O'Malley may have to give up her judgeship.
America Tonight

O’Malley, who insists on being called “Katie,” is both Maryland’s first lady and a district court judge in Baltimore. She’s never been publicly active in her husband’s political career and has largely avoided the national media. State ethics laws that prohibit judges from engaging in politics or taking a stand on legislation have kept O’Malley muzzled.

In her first national television interview about her family’s political future, O’Malley admitted that’s been tough.

“There are times that you get frustrated when you can't get out there and do what you want to do, or say what you want to say, or respond to some stupid stuff that you read in the newspaper,” she said. “… Stuff that you’re like, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ But you simmer down and let it all take its course. And it always does.”

O’Malley may not hold back for much longer. If her husband runs and she’s recruited on the campaign trail, the Maryland first lady might have to make the wrenching decision to relinquish her judgeship and become a politician’s wife full time. 

Deep political roots

O’Malley has been connected to politics since birth. Her father was Joseph Curran, the state’s well-respected attorney general.

“I'm a really proud daughter of a wonderful politician,” the first lady said. “And then I ended up married to a politician, which was not really in the grand plan.”

Katie met the future governor when she was in law school in Baltimore. She said a mutual friend set the two up on their first date.

Katie O'Malley with her father Joseph Curran.

“She said... 'I have this really cute guy that wants to meet you and he looks like John F. Kennedy and he plays in an Irish band,’” she remembered. “So I'm thinking Bono? John F. Kennedy? Let's see. And I met him and he was neither. But he [was] sort of wonderful, witty, charming and we sort of took it from there.”

On a tour of the governor’s mansion, O’Malley proudly showed America Tonight the family vacation pictures of her four children that filled a formal living room. She said raising children in the political spotlight has its pros and cons.

“If they do something that’s kind of stupid, then everybody hear’s about it,” she said. “Whereas anybody else that does something that might be a mistake that you do as an adolescent, nobody hear’s about it.”

But O’Malley added that they all enjoy campaigning.

“They've always been helpful to their dad and their dad's career, which sometimes I can't do because I'm a judge,” she said.

A ‘progressive’ judge

Maryland’s first lady has channeled her experience as a judge and former prosecutor in a different direction – becoming an international advocate for victims of domestic violence. These types of cases are the most challenging, she said, and in recent years, she traveled to Ukraine, Russia and Brazil speaking with other judges and prosecutors about how to best use protective orders to help people in domestic violence situations.

Working in the truancy court in Baltimore City, she also developed a concern for school bullying.

“I was finding that a lot of reasons at times kids weren't coming to school was because they had been bullied,” she said.

I’d hope to be progressive rather than regressive. I think that’s positive.

Katie O'Malley

In response, O’Malley helped promote a campaign to get kids to take the pledge to be an “upstander” and report cases of bullying that they see.

For years, Katie O'Malley has been outspoken on the issue of bullying.
Maryland GovPics

O’Malley, with her choice of causes, has mostly avoided controversy – except for one time. In 2012, she publicly condemned a group of Democratic lawmakers who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage the year before as “cowards” – later apologizing for her word choice. That same week, her husband introduced a re-worked gay marriage bill and two months later signed it into law.

When asked if she felt like she violated judicial ethics, O’Malley told America Tonight that she didn’t since she doesn’t consider gay marriage a political issue.

“I felt like that was a civil rights issue and I think that when it comes to civil rights, I think judges have to stand up for the rights of people,” said O’Malley. “I think that people who love each other ought to be able to marry whom they choose to love and there shouldn't be any restrictions on that.”

Given the issues that O’Malley has embraced, some would describe her as a progressive. And she’s comfortable with the label.

“I’d hope to be progressive rather than regressive,” she said. “I think that’s positive.”  

Tough choices for 2016

Even as Hilary Clinton has somewhat frozen the field of challengers for 2016, the Maryland governor has been making moves. In one of his strongest hints yet, he told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos Monday that he was “seriously considering” running. 

At a celebration of Maryland agriculture and local chefs, Katie O'Malley looked very comfortable in first lady mode.
America Tonight

“The polls might show that he doesn't have a bunch of name recognition… [but] he's a young, dynamic and appealing governor with a pretty good record of accomplishments,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College. “And I think that he has a lot of appeal for the folks who vote in Democratic primaries, the more activists, the more liberal members of the party.”

If O’Malley does seek the party’s nomination, Eberly believes Maryland’s first lady would be “an incredible asset.”

“I mean this is Katie Curran O'Malley,” Eberly said. “She is from a Maryland political family. I don't think you can grow up in a family like that without learning the tricks of the trade, without learning the ropes and how you work a room or connect with people, or convey a message.”

O’Malley said she loves being a judge and can't imagine giving it up. But she also thinks she’s well-suited and well-prepared for life on the campaign trail.

“You get to meet people, you get to talk about issues that are affecting people, and it's sort of what I do every day now,” she said. “I meet people every day. I'm in a courtroom and it looks like church sometimes. You walk in and it's just jam-packed with people, so I think it's a role that would be easy for me to adjust to.”

More Stories From America Tonight

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter