(Dec. 7, 2018) Orphans’ Court Chief Judge William D. Shockley stepped down last Tuesday after about 28 years of helping to decide issues involving wills and estates.
“I’ve always been interested in law,” he said.
One could say his affinity for all things legal runs in the family: his brother is an attorney in Ocean City, and his nephew is the chief judge for Worcester County Circuit Court. He served as a judge for 32 years.
Born in Berlin, Shockley, 78, is a “hometown boy,” and said he appreciates the opportunity to connect with his fellow neighbors.
“I owned Shockley’s Store for years down here on Assateague Island, and when you own a country store you … [get] to know people, and that’s what I liked, to help people,” he said.
While serving on the orphans’ court, Shockley dealt with the breakdown of assets from the wills and estates of those who passed away, especially when certain matters were in dispute.
“The main thing, you look to see who’s lying to you,” Shockley said. “You’ve got to figure out who’s lying to you, and who’s telling the truth, and you’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”
Shockley said the court’s name originated centuries ago when pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean to come to the new world with limited valuable possessions. Sickness often plagued families, leaving many children without parents. He went on to say a court was devised to ensure the children were cared for. He said some wish to update its name to “Probate Court,” but “a lot of us old ones don’t want it changed. I like the ‘Orphans’.”
While Shockley said he couldn’t pinpoint a specific case that struck a chord with him, he emphasized the personal aspect that comes with his job.
“Some cases will touch you, I’m telling you. Yes, they will,” Shockley said. “When you deal with a human being on something, for them it’s very touching to some of them.”
In a county like Worcester, with a small population, Shockley often presided over cases that involved familiar faces, some of whom weren’t pleased with the court’s decision.
“Some of them come in, ‘Hey, Judge Shockley,’” he said. “They walk out they won’t even speak to me.”
Shockley added some people have grievances with wills because they were promised things that were never put in writing.
“That’s hearsay, and that don’t float,” he said.
However, Shockley prides himself on remaining fair and unbiased when delivering decisions, despite people’s reactions. During his tenure, Shockley said only three of his cases were appealed, but none of the decisions were reversed.
“You have to be powerful enough to make that decision … you can’t let it get to you,” Shockley said.
When Shockley wasn’t in the courtroom, he spent his time at the store, as a bus contractor and at Frontier Town Campground.
He said the nine months he’s working as a manager at the campground is “the real love of my life.”
Shockley worked as a bus contractor for 43 years, and said he often encounters adults he used to drive to school as kids.
“Kids like their teachers and their bus drivers. Or they hate their teachers and they hate their bus drivers. You either like them or you don’t,” Shockley said. “There ain’t no in between with them, and that’s where I think my [name] got to be known.”
Shockley’s greatest accomplishment? He said it was his military service. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1965.
“That’s the best thing I ever [did],” Shockley said. “[I’m] very proud of serving in the Army.”