When the Baltimore City Courthouse, now the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse, opened in 1900, the frieze in the Supreme Bench Courtroom, now Room 600, included the names of 24 preeminent Maryland judges and lawyers of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. In 2000, the Bar Association of Baltimore City updated the list with 48 additional names of Twentieth Century greats.
If our successors in 2100 compile a similar list, there is one name that surely should be there – Joseph H.H. Kaplan.
Judge Kaplan, who served on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and its predecessor, the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, from 1977 to 2006, sat on some of the most high-profile cases of his era, including those relating to the Maryland Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s. He was the consummate jurist – learned, well-prepared and fair, but also decisive.
Many tributes already have been written since Judge Kaplan’s death on January 5, 2022, and many more are sure to come. We would like to focus on one part of his extraordinary legacy.
Over the past 10 years, we have written numerous editorials about the dire state of Baltimore’s courthouses. As derelict as the courthouses are today, they were even more so in the early 1980s. During his tenure as the administrative judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City from 1984 to 1999, Judge Kaplan took special interest in the courthouses.
Under his leadership, substantial parts of the Mitchell Courthouse were restored and modern facilities built in the Elijah E. Cummings Courthouse, previously Courthouse East, on the second floor area that formerly had been a mail sorting area. Judge Kaplan oversaw the renovation of the second floor to house beautiful new courtrooms and judges’ chambers that were much-needed and long overdue.
Although Judge Kaplan’s lobbying for a major restoration of the Mitchell Courthouse and the building of an additional new general courthouse was not successful, he did not sit idly by. He found money where he could and put it to good use. He also oversaw the building of the Juvenile Justice Center.
Under Judge Kaplan’s leadership, World War II-era blackout paint was removed from the decorative skylights in the Mitchell Courthouse and several historic courtrooms, including Rooms 400 and 600 (the latter courtroom being his own for many years) were restored. There also were a lot of less dramatic, but significant improvements in the courthouse buildings.
We would like to say of Judge Kaplan and the Mitchell Courthouse what is written on Christopher Wren’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London — Si monumentum requiris circumspice (If you seek his monument, look around). But, there is still much more work to be done. In 1989 the circuit court under Judge Kaplan’s leadership commissioned a study that recommended total restoration of the Mitchell Courthouse, including removing the 1950s infill of the building’s two courtyards.
We will continue to advocate for the restoration of the Mitchell Courthouse and building of a new, additional courthouse, as we are sure that Judge Kaplan would want us to do. When the day comes that the Mitchell Courthouse is restored and a new courthouse is built, we hope that people will remember that Judge Kaplan planted the seeds for these projects. Then he will have a fitting monument.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
L. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.
1 of 1 article
0 articles remaining
Grow your business intelligence with The Daily Record. Register now for more article access.