Former Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky, who embodied collegiality, decency and open-mindedness during the 40 years he served as an active and recalled judge on Maryland’s appellate courts, died last weekend. He was 91.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader announced Rodowsky’s death Monday at the start of the high court’s oral arguments session, calling him “a giant in the legal history of this state and in the formation of the jurisprudence of this state.”
Fader then held a moment of silence.
Rodowsky, a 1956 University of Maryland School of Law graduate, had been a trial attorney for 20 years when Gov. Harry Hughes appointed him to the high court in 1980 — a seat he would hold for 20 years until he reached Maryland’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on Nov. 10, 2000.
The Baltimore native would serve another 20 years on the bench as he made himself available to sit in place of active judges when they recused themselves from hearing cases on the Court of Appeals or intermediate Court of Special Appeals.
Judges with whom Rodowsky served and clerks who helped him in chambers recalled not only his keen legal intellect but a willingness to consider opposing views and a decency worthy of emulation.
“Larry Rodowsky brought his expertise of the private practice of law and his knowledge of complex civil cases to the Court of Appeals and with his calm demeanor was a wonderful colleague,” said retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, who served on the high court with Rodowsky from 1994 to 2000.
Retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner remembered Rodowsky as “very bright and kind of laid back.”
“You listened when he was speaking because he had done the homework and he knew the issues,” said Wilner, who served with Rodowsky on the high court from 1996 to 2000.
Wilner, in a published tribute Rodowsky after his 2000 retirement, said the jurist “excelled” in accommodating “differing and dissenting views whenever possible, without sacrificing (his) own principles and beliefs.”
“As each case or proposed opinion was presented for consideration, he would listen carefully to the discussion around the table, and he was not averse to modifying language in his draft opinions or even changing his mind on the merits of an issue when convinced that the other view was, indeed, the correct one,” Wilner wrote in the 2001 Maryland Law Review.
“More often than not, he was the convincor, causing others to consider changes, rather than the convincee,” Wilner added. “Throughout it all, though – however intense and passionate the debate – he never once lost his temper, made an inappropriate remark, or let pride, ego, or unreasoned stubbornness get in the way of conciliation and compromise.”
Attorney Kenneth Y. Turnbull – who clerked for Rodowsky from 1999-2000 — said Monday that the tribute he wrote in the 2001 Maryland Law Review still holds true regarding the judge’s capacity to change his mind.
“In law school, I had heard repeatedly the common wisdom that all judges are result-oriented, affected by their unconscious biases, and ultimately arbitrary,’ wrote Turnbull, of King & Spalding LLP in Washington.
“Now I can say this is just plain wrong,” Turnbull added. “Instead, I recall Judge Rodowsky emerging from his office to say: ‘Well, the opinion just won’t write’ – meaning that he could not develop into a coherent whole his original intuition of the legal issue, and that he would have to change his approach, and sometimes even the previously anticipated result.”
Attorney Mary H. Keyes said Monday that Rodowsky not only taught her how to be a conscientious lawyer but showed her how to be a compassionate person through his example when she served as his law clerk from 1997 to 1998.
“He always put decency above his station in life,” said Keyes, a Baltimore solo practitioner. “My whole legal career was shaped by him.”
Rodowsky imparted to his clerks “how to do things ethically, deliberately and carefully,” Keyes added.
The judge believed that “you owe it to jurisprudence to do it (the job) right,” she said. “You get it right and then you get it done.”
Details regarding memorial services were not immediately available Monday.