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Attorney Katrina Dennis remembered as skilled litigator with community bonds

Katrina Dennis (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Katrina J. Dennis, a former partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP and a University System of Maryland regent, died Saturday after a years-long battle with breast cancer. She was 40. (The Daily Record/File photo)

Baltimore attorney and University System of Maryland Regent Katrina J. Dennis died Saturday after a years-long battle with breast cancer.

Dennis’ death came one week into a medical malpractice trial accusing her doctor of negligence. Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Colleen Cavanaugh granted a joint motion for a mistrial Tuesday morning, according to Kristopher “Kip” Mallahan, one of Dennis’ attorneys.

“I think no matter what side you’re on, this is just a tremendous tragic loss to both her family, the state and us, the legal community. She was a sister,” said Mallahan, of Weltchek, Mallahan and Weltchek in Timonium. “She was just a brilliant attorney and a brilliant person and my life is better for having been her attorney.”

Mallahan declined to comment on any future litigation and said Dennis’ family wants to focus on her life.

“I think they just want privacy and they want to be able to celebrate the person she was,” he said.

Dennis, 40, was a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Baltimore until she resigned from the partnership in December 2018, according to partner Jason M. St. John. She joined the firm in January 2015 and was diagnosed with breast cancer that summer, which occasioned several periods of leave.

“She was a warrior,” St. John said Tuesday. “She worked hard, she did not feel badly for herself, she never complained and she lifted up everyone around her.”

St. John said Dennis will be remembered for her commitment to clients, her compassion and her enthusiasm.

“She had a zest for life and we’re really going to miss her,” he said.

Dennis was a mentor to young attorneys and was involved with the Girl Scouts, The Links and her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

“It’s been remarkable the number of young, female lawyers who have reached out to me over the last weekend to tell me how she was such a role model for her lawyering and for her commitment to public service,” St. John said.

Dennis was an associate and later a partner at Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore before joining Saul Ewing and was the firm’s first African American principal, according to David J. Shuster, a principal at Kramon & Graham.

Shuster said Dennis was “a wonderful lawyer, very poised and level-headed” who worked well with clients. He said they remained friends after she left the firm in 2014.

“She was just such a good person,”Shuster said. “She was one of my favorite people.”

Shuster said he received a message that Dennis had died late Saturday night, which he saw early Sunday. He had spoken with her on Friday.

“It was really heartbreaking, especially in these last few days and weeks,” he said. “But at the same time, you can’t help but admire how brave and positive she remained.”

Dennis was appointed to the Board of Regents in 2017 and also served a four-year term on the Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission. Writing on Twitter on Sunday, Gov. Larry Hogan, who appointed Dennis to both positions, said he was deeply saddened by her passing.

“Katrina was a top lawyer, a respected leader in the Baltimore region, and someone who lived each day committed to giving back to her community,” Hogan wrote. “We extend our sincere condolences to Katrina’s loved ones, and ask all Marylanders to keep them in your prayers.”

USM Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden and Chancellor Robert L. Caret issued a joint statement Sunday, calling Dennis “an amazing talent, a hard-working colleague — and a caring friend.”

Dennis was also a USM alumna, graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2004.

“Katrina Dennis was a distinguished graduate of our law school,” UB President Kurt L. Schmoke said in a statement. “She served as a member of the Board of Regents and was active in many programs designed to inspire young people throughout the state. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.”

UB School of Law Dean Ronald Weich expressed his sympathy to Dennis’ family and friends via social media on Sunday, saying, “Our hearts are with the family and friends of Katrina Dennis, who was so dedicated (to the school) and to the entire USM.”

The Baltimore Sun reported that Dennis had been hospitalized and was unable to attend the trial, which began Aug. 26 in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit named Dennis’ doctor, Michael J. Schultz, and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

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