2023 Trailblazer: The Honorable Sheila R. Tillerson Adams
The Honorable Sheila R. Tillerson Adams recently retired as the Chief and Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County and the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Maryland, which includes Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's Counties. Appointed to this position in 2010 by then Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, of the Maryland Court of Appeals, she headed the Judicial Branch, the third Branch of Government for Prince George’s County, Maryland for 12 years. As the Circuit Administrative Judge, she worked collaboratively with all the County Administrative Judges of the 7th Judicial Circuit to ensure that the 7th Circuit Courts secure the resources to meet the needs of the citizens they serve.
Under Judge Adams’ leadership, the Circuit Court adopted the Vision Statement “The Circuit Court Welcomes All - A Fair Forum for Justice”. She created a court where service to the public is a priority and staff is afforded the resources to provide that service. Early in her tenure, she realized that the infrastructure and security of the courthouse had to be improved so that the system could effectively work for all -- the staff, the Bar and the public. She moved quickly to coordinate partnerships with other government offices and secured needed resources to make these changes -- renovating courtrooms and workspaces, enhancing security (cameras, turnstiles, key cards, panic buttons and secured parking for staff), securing additional court space (the Judiciary Services Building and Warehouses) and enhancing technology to prepare the court for the future while making technology accessible to all litigants. Additionally, Judge Adams created a state-of-the-art Command Center in the Courthouse that monitors the security cameras throughout the Courthouse Complex and a one-of-a-kind Security Check Point. She has made it her passion to ensure that the Upper Marlboro Courthouse is not only welcoming, but is safe, secure, and equipped with modern technology, creating a dignified place to resolve disputes.
A true Visionary, Judge Adams recognized a need for alternative methods of administering Justice in our community and was proud to establish the very first Re-Entry and Veterans Courts in the State of Maryland. Through her leadership, Prince George’s County Circuit Court has more Problem-Solving Courts than any other Court in this State, including Adult Drug Court, Juvenile Drug Court, Truancy Court and Juvenile Diversion Court -- all changing lives and returning productive citizens to their families our community. She also championed the Family Justice Center, restoring hope and changing lives of citizens victimized by Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking, Child Abuse and Elder Abuse. The Circuit Court is the only court in the nation that oversees a Family Justice Center.
Judge Adams has also fiercely advocated for the rights and interests of our youth aging out of foster care. As one of her final pre-retirement projects, she collaborated with the Office of the County Executive and the Office of Central Services to designate a plan for affordable, dignified, and safe housing for our young people aging out of foster care and created a Bridge Center to provide needed services to address their challenges.
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Judge Adams navigated the court system through the crisis while keeping the Bar and community apprised and devising creative ways to keep the doors of the courthouse open virtually--and in person where needed--to resolve disputes while protecting the safety and welfare of staff and litigants. She accomplished this while preparing the Court, the Bar and community for the modern conversion of the court from a paper environment to the digital world of Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC), in October 2022.
Born in Washington, D.C., Judge Adams graduated from Morgan State University with Cum Laude Honors, received her Juris Doctorate Degree from Howard University School of Law and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center. She started her legal career at the Legal Aid Bureau, then honed her skills at the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County before being appointed Deputy County Attorney for Prince George’s County.
Upon Governor William Donald Schaefer's 1993 historic appointment of Judge Adams to the District Court, she became the first African American woman trial Judge in Prince George's County. In 1996 she was elevated to the Circuit Court by Governor Parris N. Glendening. In 2010, Judge Adams made history once again when she became the first woman to lead the Circuit Court in Prince George’s County.
Judge Adams is admitted to the Maryland Bar, the Federal Bar and the United States Supreme Court. She is a Past President and member of the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association, a member of the Maryland State Bar Association, the Prince George's County Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Women's Bar Association of Maryland, the American Bar Association, the Maryland Circuit Judges Association, and the National Association of Women Judges. She has also served on numerous committees during her tenure. In 2020, Judge Adams was appointed by County Executive Alsobrooks to the “Prince George’s Forward” Task Force, serving as Chair of the Human and Social Services Recovery Workgroup. She was also appointed by former Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera to the Committee on Equal Justice, where she served as Chairperson for the Sentencing Subcommittee. Additionally, she chaired the Committee to Resume Jury Trials in Maryland for the Conference of Circuit Court Judges.
Committed to our youth, Judge Adams initiated the Law Links Program in Prince George's County in 1993 and continued to Chair the Law Links Committee of the Prince George’s County Bar Association until her retirement. Law Links is a paid summer internship program pairing Prince George’s County High School students with county law firms and legal departments, broadening the possibilities of our youth by combining work experience with a law and leadership institute.
Judge Adams is the recipient of numerous honors and awards from National, State and local bar associations, The Daily Record and community groups throughout the County. In 2018, Judge Adams was named Honorary Commander of Legal Operations for Joint Base Andrews Airforce.
Judge Adams is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, Prince George’s County Alumnae Chapter and the Mount Rose Maryland Chapter of the Links, Inc. She is married to the Honorable Timothy J. Adams, is the proud mom of two surviving adult children, Timothy and Kayla and adoring grandmother to Nehemiyah.
(This biography was supplied by the honoree.)
Mayor Adams said this of Judge Adams:
"If one was to look up the definition of trailblazer in the dictionary, there you’ll find a picture of The Honorable Sheila R. Tillerson Adams. Judge Adams was the first African American woman to serve as deputy county attorney and the first African American woman to be named to the District Court for Prince George’s County. Additionally, as Chief and Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County and Seventh Judicial Circuit of Maryland, Judge Adams leadership was instrumental in expanding the court’s problem solving courts, creating the Prince George’s County Family Justice Center and guiding the implementation of updating the court’s technology, among many other initiatives.
As a fearless leader and selfless advocate for Prince George’s County and the City of Bowie, Judge Adams has blazed many trails and cracked numerous glass ceilings with the goal of creating opportunities for others to follow, which is the true meaning of a trailblazer. And that, she is!
The Honorable Sheila R. Tillerson Adams' mission has always been to uplift and empower others as seen in her professional accomplishments, community involvement, and devotion to her family and friends. It’s because of her tenacity and passion for change. that many young African American attorneys are able to dream and live the impossible dream. Thank you for being a steadfast force and true change agent.’”