J. Thomas Nissel, the administrative judge of the Howard County Circuit Court and a veteran of 20 years on the bench, said yesterday he will retire Dec. 31.
"I have been on the bench for two decades and it is time to look for new ventures, such as teaching and writing," said Nissel, 60, of Ellicott City.
The announcement of his retirement comes at a time when the four-judge Circuit Court is struggling with a workload so heavy that Nissel has asked the state to add a fifth judge.
"There is no question the workload is growing tremendously," the judge said. "I asked for a fifth judge last year with no success and I am asking again."
When Nissel retires, the 13-member Judicial Nominating Commission will take applications for the vacancy and send the names of its nominees to the governor, who will select a replacement.
Nissel has served on the Circuit Court for 10 years.
A 1952 graduate of Loyola College, he received his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1955.
From 1957 to 1963, Nissel worked as a special attorney handling condemnation cases for the state Attorney General's office. He was appointed state's attorney in Howard County in 1966 to fill a vacancy, and in 1967 he was a county attorney for the old county commissioners.
He also spent nine years on the District Court, where he was administrative judge for Howard and Carroll counties, and a year as judge on the old People's Court.
Nissel has a reputation for running a no-nonsense courtroom.
"Maybe I just look frightening, but I do have proper decorum in my court," he said.
During his District Court days, the judge kept a suit coat handy and required slovenly dressed men to wear it before testifying. He also frequently ordered youngsters convicted of traffic violations to write essays on ways to reduce automobile fatalities.
"I think the essays helped them realize how many persons were killed on the highway and maybe it made them a little more careful behind the wheel," Judge Nissel said.