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.”
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.
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.”