Judge Joseph Carter dies at age 86 served 22 years on Supreme Bench

February 09, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

Judge Joseph L. Carter, who won a reputation for tough sentencing during 22 years on the old Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, died of cancer Thursday night at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 86.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St.

Born in the Allegany County community of Eckhart Mines, Judge Carter attended public schools in Frost

burg and received his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1925.

He was a lawyer for a bank before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney, a post he held from 1932 to 1934. He then worked in private law practice until his appointment to the bench.

Judge Carter's life was closely entwined with Republican politics and the career of his law school roommate, the late governor and Baltimore mayor Theodore R. McKeldin.

A former chairman of the Republican state Central Committee, he was the manager of Mr. McKeldin's successful 1950 gubernatorial campaign. And after his own unsuccessful candidacy in the 1951 Baltimore mayoral race, Judge Carter won a gubernatorial appointment to the

Supreme Bench.

Although he professed to favor the equity courts that were part of the Supreme Bench, Judge Carter was assigned for much of his time to its criminal courts -- where he made of a point of imposing stiff sentences for crimes of violence.

He sentenced at least 10 men to death for murder or rape -- although because of appeals, commutations and changes in the law, only only one was carried out. And a 20-year sentence Judge Carter gave to a man convicted of a $47 street robbery was termed "shocking" in its harshness by a federal appellate judge in a 1967 ruling that nonetheless upheld the punishment.

Judge Carter handled a great diversity of cases, with decisions upholding bans on films by the old state censor board and a ban on bullfighting by the city. In 1972, he overturned as unconstitutional a year-old state law prohibiting pharmacies from advertising the prices of prescription drugs.

When he retired with reluctance in 1974, at the mandatory age of 70, Judge Carter had the longest tenure of a trial judge in Maryland. "I never loafed in my life, and it's going to be a new experience for me," he said.

He was active years ago on many civic and community boards, including those of what is now the Harbor Hospital Center and Morgan State University, and the Methodist Home for the Aged. He was a past president of the University of Maryland Alumni Association.

Surviving are his wife of 55 years, the former Nellie I. Hilleary; a son, Joseph L. Carter Jr. of Rosslyn, Va.; a daughter, Anne Hilleary Carter of Baltimore; and a niece, Peggy Carter Welkos of Catonsville.

The family suggested memorial donations to the American Cancer Society or Grace United Methodist Church, where Judge Carter was a member.

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