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John C. Eldridge, longtime Md. high-court judge, dies at 84

Judge John C. Eldridge (File photo)

Judge John C. Eldridge (File photo)

Retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge John C. Eldridge, who served on the state’s top court for nearly 30 years, died Friday. He was 84.

Eldridge died at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, where he was being treated for congestive heart failure.

Eldridge, who served on the state’s high court from 1974 to 2003 was forced from the bench by the Maryland Constitution’s mandatory retirement age of 70 but continued to hear cases by special assignment in place of recused high-court judges.

Eldridge was renowned for having a long turnaround on opinions, which he explained by saying it was more important to be right than fast.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia said Eldridge, by then a veteran jurist, served as her mentor when she joined the high court in 2001.

“I was attracted to his brilliant legal mind,” Battaglia said Monday. “He would spend time with me educating me about the nuances of the law and I so appreciated not only the time but his legal acumen. He was just truly an amazing man. He was a wonderful addition to my life.”

Columbia lawyer Erin K. Voss, a former Eldridge clerk, recalled in an email that the judge “expected ease and flow to language in his opinions, even when the subjects were difficult or weighty. He wanted us to speak the language of the people who were impacted by the opinions, not just the detached language of the aloof.”

Eldridge served as then-Gov. Marvin Mandel’s chief legislative officer for five years before the governor appointed him to the high court for the 5th Appellate Judicial Circuit, which includes Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

John Cole Eldridge was born Nov. 13, 1933, in Baltimore County, where he was raised.

The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law graduate joined the Maryland bar in 1960 and served as a law clerk to 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Simon E. Sobeloff before becoming a trial attorney in 1961 and later assistant chief of the civil division’s appellate section at the U.S. Justice Department, according to a biography on the Dignity Memorial website. He was in private practice briefly in 1969 before becoming Mandel’s liaison to the Maryland General Assembly.

Eldridge was preceded in death by his wife of nearly 56 years, Dayne. He is survived by a daughter; a son; two grandsons; two step-granddaughters, a brother; a niece and several nephews.

The Eldridge family will receive visitors at the John M. Taylor Funeral Home in Annapolis on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Interment will be private at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Cemetery in Myersville.

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