(CNN) — Authorities are searching for a man accused in the fatal shooting of a judge who’d presided hours earlier over a hearing in his divorce case, according to Maryland authorities and court records.
Pedro Argote, 49, is suspected in the killing Thursday of County Circuit Court Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said.
Argote may be driving a silver 2009 Mercedes GL450 with Maryland plates, the agency said. He is 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.
The public should “not approach him but to immediately notify law enforcement,” authorities said.
Wilkinson was killed in a shooting in a driveway in the northern Maryland city of Hagerstown, the sheriff’s office said. Deputies responding around 8 p.m. found Wilkinson in a residential driveway suffering from what appeared to be gunshot wounds, it said.
The judge was taken to a medical facility where he died, according to the sheriff’s office.
Maryland State Police troopers were “dispatched to protect other judges,” CNN affiliate WJLA reported; CNN has reached out to state police. The court where Wilkinson worked now has a “high-level” of security, and all judges and court personnel are getting increased security, Circuit Court Administrative Judge Brett R. Wilson told CNN on Friday.
The sheriff’s office plans to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. ET to share more details about the ongoing investigation.
Wilkinson’s death marks the latest in a series of threats and attacks against judges or their families. More than 1,300 threats or possible threats among federal court personnel were investigated in fiscal year 2022, according to the US Marshals Service.
Last year, a Wisconsin judge was killed in a targeted attack, officials said. And in August, a Texas woman was charged with threatening to kill a judge overseeing Trump’s federal election interference case.
As details of Wilkinson’s case unfold, what is clear is his stellar reputation among legal colleagues.
“Drew was an exceptional lawyer and a man who loved his family,” his former law partner Jason Divelbiss said in a written statement. “His wife and kids were always his highest priority and my thoughts go out to them at this horrible time.
“Drew was also very close with his brother and the office always filled with laughter when he dropped by,” he wrote. “One of Drew’s greatest assets was his ability to bring stability to the most difficult situations which is what made him a great attorney, mediator and eventually judge.”
Wilkinson was “an excellent judge, truly committed to his community,” Wilson said, adding staff members at his court will have access to support services as they grapple with Wilkinson’s death.
Born in Agana, Guam, Wilkinson had been an associate judge for the Washington County Circuit Court since January 2020, according to his court biography.
He was a well-liked and respected member of the community with “a contagious smile,” wrote Neil C. Parrott, a former delegate in the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Judge Wilkinson was an exceptional judge and was a pillar in our community,” Parrott said in a statement. “The events tonight are catastrophic for Washington County, for Maryland, and for our justice system. Judge Wilkinson served faithfully and will be severely missed.”
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