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Longtime UB Law professor Byron Warnken to retire

‘My mother...she used to always say to me, “Byron, you can never get in trouble by reading the job description broadly,”’ says University of Baltimore School of Law professor Byron L. Warnken, who is retiring after 45 years at the school as a teacher and student. ‘I always tried to follow that. I tried to do whatever I could to help my students.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

‘My mother…she used to always say to me, “Byron, you can never get in trouble by reading the job description broadly,”’ says University of Baltimore School of Law professor Byron L. Warnken, who is retiring after 45 years at the school as a teacher and student. ‘I always tried to follow that. I tried to do whatever I could to help my students.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Byron L. Warnken came to University of Baltimore School of Law as an evening student in 1973. Forty-five years later, Warnken is retiring after being a professor, mentor and friend to thousands of law students over his four decades at the school.

“I love the school, I love the students, because I look at these students, I look around and ‘there’s Byron Warnken, there’s Byron Warnken,’” he said. “These students are who I was. A night student who was just very grateful to even be here.”

Known fondly as “Mr. UB,” Warnken, 72, taught criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure among other courses over the years. He also directed the law school’s judicial internship program for 33 years and placed more than 3,000 law students with judges. He also taught a bar review course.

A moot court champion as a student, Warnken also served as the faculty adviser to the moot court board. The school’s moot court room will be named in Warnken’s honor after his retirement celebration in May. The event will feature former students, colleagues and classmates.

“He deserves that place of recognition in our school; he’s meant that much to this law school,” said UB Law Dean Ronald Weich. “Over the years, Byron made himself indispensable in the law school through his classroom teaching, his mentorship of students.”

Next week, UB Law faculty is expected to vote on making Warnken a professor emeritus.

“Which means I will be a professor forever,” Warnken said with a laugh while sitting in Weich’s office Tuesday.

A Baltimore native, Warnken came from a family of modest means and was the first male in his family to graduate high school. After leaving McDonogh School, earned his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and spent four years in the U.S. Army. He then enrolled at UB Law and graduated cum laude in 1977. He started teaching as an adjunct the following year and became a full-time professor on the tenure track in 1978.

Asked why he wanted to be a professor, Warnken replied: “I loved being a law student.”

Warnken was known for having very rigorous classes and giving daily quizzes.

“Sometimes, we as academics are not demanding enough upon our students,” Warnken said. “I’m a fairly demanding academic.”

Family business

Warnken’s wife and children are also lawyers. His wife, Bonnie, a nurse, attended UB Law at age 40. Their son, Byron B. Warnken, graduated in 2004, and their daughter, Heather, went to Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

The elder Byron Warnken, who also had a part-time law practice that his son took over in 2012, was drawn to criminal law and procedure because it’s “the one area that’s always busy and always changing.”

In 2013, Warnken published three-volume treatise on Maryland criminal procedure that is considered an indispensable resource for judges and criminal law practitioners in the state. Upon retirement, Warnken will work on the second edition of treatise, currently slated for release next year.

Warnken has been on the frontline of significant criminal cases, particularly ones involving the Fourth Amendment cases. In 1996, he was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Maryland v. Wilson, in which Jerry Lee Wilson was asked to get out of a car by a state trooper during a traffic stop and some cocaine fell to the ground when he stood up. The question in the case was whether the trooper violated the man’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Warnken, representing Wilson, argued the case against then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, representing the trooper, and became friends with her afterward. Even though he lost, Warnken called the case one of the highlights of his career.

Students first

In the classroom, Warken’s fondest memories are “working so closely with so many students.” Weich said Warnken can still identify the graduating year of anyone who has ever been in his class. Warnken and his wife have been to the weddings of more than 100 of his students, and Warnken said some judges won’t even hire a law clerk from UB unless the professor can vouch for applicant.

“As I speak to alumni throughout the state,” Weich said, “I encounter so many people who credit Byron with launching their careers, either because he taught them taught them well, or he helped them pass the bar, or he got them that first job that started them on the path to success in the profession.”

To Warnken, it was all part of the job.

“My mother…she used to always say to me, ‘Byron, you can never get in trouble by reading the job description broadly,’” he said. “I always tried to follow that. I tried to do whatever I could to help my students.”


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4 comments

  1. reflaw@ubalt.edu

    It was Byron Warnken who gave me the chance to teach law school. He stuck with me as I learned my job. His mentor-ship, friendship and guidance have been indispensable. I have watched him change the lives of so many people who just wanted a chance to shine without regard to ethnic background, gender or social pedigree. I pray he enjoy his retirement years, he has certainly earned it!

    Jose’ Felipe’ Anderson
    Professor of Law
    University of Baltimore School of Law

  2. nbixler@bixlerlaw.com

    Professor Warnken is one of a kind. I was one of his students at UB and knew that if I followed his bar review protocols I would pass. He can be a demanding teacher which some people understandably didn’t like; however, I believe his heart is always in the right place: help the students by pushing them to reach their full potential. Thank you Professor Warnken for touching so many lives.

    Neil J. Bixler, Esq.
    Class of 1992

  3. ctvita55@aacounty.org

    Many a judge and practitioner credit Professor Warnken with their successful legal careers and I count myself as one of them. Were it not for Byron, I would not have been a successful student and therefore…(as he liked to say)… would not have even begun a legal career. He taught you that no word, comma or sentence is unimportant. Someone wrote them for a reason… Byron as you continue to write your books and treatises, I hope you will know that your words are ever so important on the pages of the lives of lawyers and judges everywhere.

    Cathy Vitale
    Class of 1989

  4. erniecrofoot@gmail.com

    Truly the finest! Byron ranks as one of the best teachers, role models, mentors, and friends. But for Byron, my path in law would have been radically different. (And, I will wager that he yet remembers my SSN and course grades!)

    Ernest A. Crofoot
    Class of 1982