In describing the late Alexander Yankelove, friends and colleagues of the man who spent nearly four decades at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office paint a picture of a tireless worker whose unflagging professionalism influenced generations of young prosecutors — including one who went on to become governor of the state.
Yankelove, 91, passed away on March 3. At his funeral the following day, lawyers, judges, prosecutors and friends joined his family to pay their respects.
The youngest of five children raised by a widow, Yankelove worked as a clerk and served in New Guinea during World War II before eventually enrolling at the Mount Vernon School of Law, which became the University of Baltimore School of Law. He maintained a solo practice for some 20 years before becoming a career prosecutor.
The Baltimore native joined the state’s attorney’s office on Sept. 2, 1974, under Milton B. Allen. Yankelove later became chief of the state’s attorney’s district court division under William A. Swisher. He continued as a prosecutor at the Maryland District Court on Wabash Avenue under Kurt Schmoke, Patricia Jessamy and Gregg L. Bernstein.
One of those he mentored was current Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who learned the legal ropes as a prosecutor under Yankelove in the late 1980s.
“Alex Yankelove was a good, kind, and just man. He taught countless numbers of young lawyers what it meant to be prepared for trial, and what it meant to be an officer of the court,” O’Malley said in a statement Tuesday. “He was a man of integrity and compassion who carried a fierce dedication to justice into Baltimore Courtrooms every day. He was a bit of a father figure in the law to so many of us that he trained.”
Bernstein remembered him as an institution at the office and in court.
“He was a fixture at the office and his work ethic and his contributions to the office are inspiring,” Bernstein said. “He was synonymous with the state’s attorney’s office. He will be sorely missed.”
As a staple in the state’s attorney’s office he interacted with, trained, and influenced hundreds of young prosecutors in their nascent careers. Without fail, he was remembered as the ideal of a mentor, an experienced professional always willing to lend a helping hand.
Robert H. Wolf, a lawyer with Alperstein and Diener P.A. in Baltimore, was fresh out of law school when he worked with Yankelove as an assistant state’s attorney starting in 1976. He said Yankelove’s influence on the legal community was immense.
“If you were in District Court then he had his hands on you and he’d walk you through things,” Wolf said. “There were hundreds of us who came up under him. He probably trained at least three generations of lawyers.”
Laura Mullally, an assistant attorney general for the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, worked with Yankelove when she was the chief of the District Court Division for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office, and he was the chief traffic prosecutor.
She said that despite the heavy dockets in the city court, Yankelove always took time to help out young prosecutors and provide constructive criticism.
“When his trainees were in court, he was watching every move they made and making corrections,” she said. “He was very demanding, but demanding in the right way.”
Gary Bernstein, a defense attorney who also trained under Yankelove, remembered his unfailing effort to help out young prosecutors. He recounted one instance where, as opposing counsel in a case, Yankelove helped out his younger charge during the trial — to Bernstein’s consternation.
“[Alex] was sitting on the right-hand side of the trial table, and he is whispering to the prosecutor ‘ask the police officer this…’,” Gary Bernstein said. “I said to the judge that I can’t try this case, I keep hearing voices from the other side of the courtroom. The judge said, ‘It’s OK, I hear the same voices,’ and Alex was just giggling. I thought I had shut him down, but before my butt hit the seat I heard him saying, ‘Ask the police officer this …’.”
Yankelove maintained his presence in court and the office despite officially retiring in 2003. Gregg L. Bernstein said that even as a part-time employee, Yankelove still routinely put in a full day’s work, coming into the office as recently as a month ago before he was hospitalized.
The state’s attorney’s office even threw him a party in October 2010 to celebrate his 90th birthday, where Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley presented him with a framed proclamation from the governor hailing him as “Chief of Expungements, and the Dean of Traffic Prosecution.”
His son, Terry Yankelove, used to drive his father in from the assisted living facility where he resided and the senior Yankelove would handle traffic cases and expungements. Friends say that even from his hospital bed, his thoughts were of getting back to work.
“He had a 25-year-old mind in a 91-year-old body,” Terry Yankelove said.
Those who knew him often marveled at Yankelove’s ability to maintain an even keel despite the heavy caseloads and everyday challenges posed by working in the district court.
“His civility and kindness and the respect he showed everyone was an inspiration,” Gregg Bernstein said. “It didn’t matter if it was a prosecutor, a judge or a defendant, he treated everyone the same and that was part of his character, it was ingrained in him.”
Scott B. Goldstein, a private-practice defense attorney, tried cases against Yankelove for more than two decades. He said Yankelove was unflappable and showed the same respect to everyone despite their role in the criminal justice process.
“You could differ with Alex on a legal point, but he would never raise his voice,” Goldstein said. “I watched him interact with unrepresented defenders, and he never ever spoke to people in a condescending way.”
His son Terry said it was that emphasis on respect and civility that he will always remember and has had a lasting impact on him and how he approaches his profession.
“I taught for 39 years in Baltimore Public Schools, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without having learned from him how to treat everyone with respect.”
In addition to Terry and his wife, Judith, Yankelove is survived by another son, Dr. Samuel Yankelove and his wife, Dale, of Houston, Texas; eight grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.
Services were held at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., after which Yankelove was interred at Tifereth Israel Cemetery in Rosedale. The family requested that any donations be made to the Foundation Fighting Blindness in Baltimore or The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Daily Record reporter Shane Doyle contributed to this article.