“He’s literate, he’s erudite and engaging …. He’s got a rich sense of humor and a richly furnished mind, too. When he orders a hamburger, he’s apt to quote Socrates.”
So wrote the late Baltimore writer Gilbert Sandler years ago in describing Stephen H. Sachs, who was a giant among men, trial and appellate lawyers, and attorneys general. He was also the quintessential son of Baltimore — a Ravens and Orioles fan, a devoted husband and father, and a man of the people.
The erudite Mr. Sachs was known to legal friends and colleagues not as “General Sachs” or even “Mr. Sachs,” but simply as “Steve.” We write to add our voice to the chorus noting the passing of a legend of the Bar earlier this month at the age of 87.
Yes, Steve Sachs had impeccable credentials: Friends School, Haverford College, Fulbright scholar at Oxford University, and Yale Law School; law clerk to Judge Henry Edgerton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; appointed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as an assistant U.S. attorney in 1961; appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as U.S. attorney for Maryland in 1967, at age 33; elected attorney feneral of Maryland in 1978; and named partner at major law firms in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
But Steve was more than a brilliant lawyer. He was first, and foremost, a tireless public servant.
Before becoming a lawyer, Steve served in the Army from 1955 to 1957, between Haverford and Oxford. After retiring from Wilmer Cutler in 2000, he championed the right to appointed counsel in civil cases on behalf of the Public Justice Center and came within one vote of getting the Court of Appeals of Maryland to adopt such a rule. See Frase v. Barnhart, 379 Md. 100 (2003).
In 2008, Steve was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to head an independent review of the Maryland State Police, concluding that an overzealous force had engaged in improper surveillance of peaceful protesters.
As attorney general of Maryland from 1979 to 1987, Steve fundamentally changed the office and transformed it into a national model. He attracted the best and the brightest, he was a leader in hiring and promoting women to top positions in the office, he expanded the scope of the consumer protection division, and he aggressively prosecuted white collar offenses, including Medicaid fraud cases targeting doctors and nursing homes.
A man of the highest ethical standards, Steve instituted a policy prohibiting his employees from contributing to his political campaigns, in stark contrast to some of his predecessors.
Above all, Steve was a trial and appellate lawyer with few peers. As attorney general, he successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He prosecuted the Catonsville Nine and other high-profile cases as U.S. attorney.
In private practice, he was fearless and tenacious. Perhaps his most memorable client was Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, who spent 25 months in jail for civil contempt in a child custody case, after refusing to disclose the location of her daughter, Hilary, then 5 years old.
Dr. Morgan contended that her former husband had sexually abused Hilary over a period of years. Dr. Morgan became a hero to groups of mothers for her sacrifice to protect her child. She was freed only after Congress passed a law limiting the time that a person could be jailed on civil contempt charges in the District of Columbia to 12 months. That law, fiercely advocated by Sachs, did not mention his client, but its sponsors admitted that it was enacted to free her.
Steve Sachs was an inspiration and role model to countless lawyers in public and private practice over many decades. He was a true leader in and of the law. Let us hope that he is not the last of a dying breed. We need honest, truth-telling, principled lawyers and politicians like Steve Sachs now more than ever.
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.