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The loss of a superhero

It’s not my week to write, but I feel I have to write. This week, this community lost an inspiration and a bright light.

I vividly remember the first time that I met the Honorable S. Ann Brobst. It was the summer after my first year of law school and I had secured an internship with the State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore County, working in the felony screening unit under Dean Stocksdale. Dean was great about introducing me to everyone in the office, including the big wigs, like Judge Brobst. At that time, she was a prosecutor.

It’s funny how some moments stay with you. Meeting Judge Brobst was one of those moments. We were walking by her office, near a set of file cabinets. As we approached Judge Brobst, Dean explained that I was interning with their office for the summer.

She was bubbly and bright. She welcomed me to the office with a warm smile. She told me to let her know if I needed anything or wanted to join her in court. She was casual and somewhat maternal.

It felt like she was almost excited for me- this intern whom she’d never met. It was as if she were saying beneath that warm smile, “Welcome to the profession. We’re happy to have you!”

After that initial meeting, Judge Brobst made it a point to stop and say hello to me if we happened to cross paths. She knew me by name. In that large, buzzing office, my very first office job, it was so nice to be recognized by name by a person or two. I will never forget and will always be grateful for how she treated me.

Weeks later, I realized that that bright, personable woman was trying high profile murder cases and was among the most respected and revered prosecutors in Maryland. I was in shock. How could that be the same person who welcomed me to the office?

She was like a superhero to me. I looked at her and saw someone who was doing it all. As a young woman navigating my way into the legal profession, it was such an inspiration to know it could be done — and be done exceptionally well.

Judge Brobst became a model for the type of lawyer and person that I strived to be. Even after I left the State’s Attorney’s Office after the end of my internship, I followed her career. I was excited to hear her name on the news and proud of her accomplishments. I told my friends in law school about her. At the risk of sounding childish, I thought she was one of the coolest people I had ever met.

After I passed the Bar and joined Bodie, Judge Brobst was appointed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. I was so proud of her. I knew without a doubt that she would be excellent on the bench.

You cannot imagine my excitement when I received an invitation in the mail to her investiture. I still have no idea why she invited me but I was beyond thrilled. I huddled into that courtroom with the biggest smile on my face. At the reception, she approached me and gave me a hug.  I gave her my congratulations- another moment that will stay with me.

In the last few years, I’ve seen her around Towson and at Bar functions.  I even lost a case in front of her.  Even as she was ruling against me, she did it with a smile and with kindness. She did what she thought was fair and right. I might not have been happy about it, but I respected her nonetheless.

A few months after that ruling, my colleague, Sarah Sherman, and I went into a local Towson deli to pick up lunch.  We ran into Judge Brobst. She was clearly ill but, aside from her physical appearance, you would have never known it.

“Hi girls!” she said as she walked in. “How are you guys?!?!”

There was that bright, bubbly woman who was never too impressive, never too accomplished, to greet newcomers to her profession, to stop for a chat, and to be sincerely interested in what we were doing and in how we were doing.

I heard that Judge Brobst passed away during my drive into work on Tuesday morning. My heart sank. We have lost a wonderful woman, litigator, jurist and friend.

I don’t think she will ever know the impact that she has had on me but she will never be far from my thoughts as I forge ahead with my own career. She will always be a hero of mine.

My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and colleagues. I am deeply, deeply saddened for your loss and hope that you find peace and comfort during this difficult time.

3 comments

  1. What a wonderful tribute to a truly great lady . . .she was the best! She will be truly missed.

  2. As much as I hate to rain on someone’s hagiography of the late Judge, one should note that she withheld exculpatory evidence in a death penalty case. She may have made a difference in the writer’s life, but she definitely made a difference in Kirk Bloodsworth’s life.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Mark. There was an article in the Sun about this case in 2009, wherein Judge Brobst commented on her role in that case: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-12-07/news/bal-rodricksonlinedec07_1_bloodsworth-case-mr-bloodsworth-dna-testing. It’s definitely worth a read:

    …Ms. Brobst went to the Eastern Shore with two county detectives, met Mr. Bloodsworth at a fast-food restaurant in Cambridge, told him the news of the real killer’s arrest and apologized for her role in his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

    That was the first time anyone from the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, which had twice prosecuted Mr. Bloodsworth, acknowledged his innocence.

    Monday, Ms. Brobst said the encounter in 2004 with Mr. Bloodsworth and the apology were her idea. She also said she had a role in the push for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence in the case, despite being pressured not to.

    A lot of people familiar with Ms. Brobst’s work would say that, on balance, she has done far more good than bad over 30 years in the courts — so the focus on Mr. Bloodsworth is unfair.

    Monday, she spoke candidly about the case and about being identified in the press as “the Bloodsworth prosecutor.” She accepts that, despite having smartly prosecuted so many other criminals who deserved to go to prison, Mr. Bloodsworth seems to be the case that sticks to her — at least it did last week in reports of her appointment to the bench.

    “Obviously, what happened to him should not have happened to anybody,” Ms. Brobst said. “It’s something I think about every day — I mean that, every day. It certainly changed me … It shook me.”