Written By Lisa Breslin, Photos by: Phil Grout

Eldersburg native Charles Harrison considers his role as a judge for the Orphans’ Court of Carroll County the opportunity of a lifetime. A former FBI special agent and an independent contractor specializing in counter-terrorism matters, Harrison is a graduate of the FBI’s Executive Development Institute I and II. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Administration of Justice. He is married to Virginia Harrison, who is a member of the Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education. They have two daughters, Tia West and Tiane Harrison, and two grandchildren, Campbell and Benjamin West.

You have served on the Orphans’ Court for approximately nine months. How has the job matched your expectations?
As I spend more time on the bench and hearing cases, I’m beginning to understand that the citizens of Carroll County expect and deserve an experienced, professional, objective Orphans’ Court that understands their needs at one of most vulnerable times in their lives.

For the average Carroll County citizen appearing before the Orphans’ Court, mine will be the only contact they will have with the judiciary system. That contact will make a lasting impression. Citizens will not long remember what I said to them, but they will remember how I made them feel. They will also remember me because I don’t look like the other two judges, who are both women

After each hearing I make a point of cautioning families not to let the distribution of assets, money, or property, destroy the family unit.

Thinking back on your previous careers, what are some of the skills that you mastered in those careers that have helped you the most in your current position?
The most important skill set I bring from my various careers is my communication competence.

Although my wife does not believe it, I do have the ability to listen and make logical, objective decisions based upon the information I receive. I am a professional with a clearly defined sense of right and wrong and what is fair. I have learned from experience how to be compassionate, tolerant, understanding and flexible. Also, after 28 years of conducting interviews and investigations, I can gather information and remember facts.

What three adjectives describe your life in Carroll County?
The three adjectives I would use to describe my life in Carroll County would be: (1) comfortable, meaning the absence of disturbing, distressing issues. I am comfortable in what I have accomplished, with who I am and what role I can play or can contribute to the “greater good”; (2) predictable. I know what to expect. I know the things Carroll County citizens value and that they value the same things that I do; and (3) Interesting. Carroll County has so many interesting people and offers the opportunity to become involved at so many levels. This is not a place to be bored or complacent. This county calls for one to participate.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far with the Orphans’ Court?
The various laws and the statutes contained in “Maryland Estates and Trusts” define our responsibilities and authorities. That being the case, I can impact the court in several ways. I bring a work ethic that demands professionalism and accepting responsibility for getting the job done. I am not saying that those elements do not already exist, but I think I add an element to the collegial working relationship between the Orphans’ Court, the Register of Wills office, the sheriff deputies and the bailiffs we work with each day.

What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is to reach out to a broader segment of the Carroll County Community. As a judge on the Orphans’ Court I only reach a small percentage of the community. I want to educate, inform, and assist citizens.

Who are your professional mentors?
There were individuals at every level who encouraged, guided and opened doors for me. There were countless people who helped along the way. I thank them and appreciate everything they did. I must also add that negative experiences can also serve to inspire and motivate one to achieve.

Who were your personal mentors?
Of course, my personal mentors were my parents, my wife and my children. They keep me grounded, motivated and in the correct frame of mind. I also give my teachers credit for providing direction and guidance.

What is your favorite music to wind down?
I enjoy listening to “smooth jazz,” but I find it hard to have time to wind down. I just move from one task or project to another. I still have not figured out how to get the “retirement thing” right.

What is your favorite music to rev up?
I am a product of the Ô60s and ’70s. I enjoy the soulful sounds of the Temptations and Motown. Before getting married, I would awake each morning, dancing to the music as I dressed for work. My wife and children are quiet in the mornings so I have to tone down my excitement.

What do you hope your legacy will be when you are gone?
Generally, I hope my legacy will indicate that I was an involved citizen who cared about his community and that I attempted to make a difference. As to my role as Orphans’ Court judge, I hope my legacy will indicate that I attempted to professionalize its operation, brought clarity to the decision-making process and the way we interact with the legal community. I hope I will be remembered as a judge who emphasized conducting case reviews, was prepared and understood the issues involved in each hearing.

Who are some authors or artists who inspire you?
I am an avid reader of biographies. They give me insight into what made great men and women great. My library consists of a collection of everything written on or about the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. It includes five books that all agents in training had to buy and write a paper on. I entered the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. I also enjoy the investigative writings of Ronald Kessler. Other works include On Reagan, The Man and his Presidency by Ronnie Dagger; Close Encounters by Mike Wallace; My American Journey by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico; The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, and Friends in High Places by Web Hubbell.