DePazzo always leaves 'em laughing Delegate tosses his hat into the ring for circuit judgeship. ON THE RUN

July 18, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

Ed Rolfes, 25, has just been lashed pretty good by Lou DePazzo, the state delegate from Dundalk, but Rolfes is grinning his best grin -- considering his two front teeth are missing.

"Man," Rolfes says, "my own lawyer was giving it to me."

Rolfes smiles because DePazzo, using what one judge calls DePazzo's patented tell-the-judge-you're-a-young-punk defense, has kept Rolfes out of jail on charges related to cursing a former employer.

"He's a brilliant lawyer," says Rolfes, who moments before had DePazzo saying to him outside the court, "What's wrong with you, boy? You come to court smelling like a whiskey barrel."

DePazzo, 58, a state delegate since 1978 and a lawyer for 31 years, has built a reputation as a man who speaks his mind.

He's a working man's hero in Dundalk.

Last year, DePazzo made himself a nuisance to what he calls "the Towson crowd" by loudly denouncing fellow Democrats Dennis F. Rasmussen and Dale Volz, the former county executive and Dundalk councilman, respectively -- even though he was on the same ticket with Rasmussen and Volz.

Rasmussen and Volz lost the election. DePazzo was re-elected by a comfortable margin.

This summer, DePazzo is again attacking. He's filed to run for a seat on the Baltimore County Circuit Court bench, turning what could otherwise be an unnoticed re-election race for five judges into a lively contest, even though the election isn't until November 1992.

DePazzo, a former U.S. Marine who grew up in Highlandtown, says he's running for the bench because he thinks he'd make a good judge, but mostly because "the Towson crowd" has systematically kept lawyers from Essex, Dundalk, Catonsville and Arbutus off the bench.

Of 28 District and Circuit court judges in Baltimore County, DePazzo says, only one, John Coolahan, the former state senator from Halethorpe, isn't from the Towson or the central county area.

That, according to DePazzo, means 300,000 county residents are represented, in effect, by only one judge. "It's patently unfair," he says.

Several lawyers, including Judge Christian Kahl, one of the five up for re-election, says it's not a matter of keeping certain lawyers off the bench. It's more a function of geography. The courthouse is in Towson, thus most lawyers locate their offices there.

"Few of those people from those areas ever apply" for judgeships, Kahl says. "That's not the fault of us, who happen to live in the central district area."

But DePazzo, who is known for his flamboyant public personality, is having none of that.

"It's a good-old-boy system, don't let them fool you," DePazzo says, in reaction to comments that lawyers outside Towson aren't overlooked. "If you don't know how to tinkle your ice [in your cocktail glass] and curl your pinky finger, you don't meet up their standards. That's the problem."

Kahl, who was appointed to the Circuit Court bench last fall after several years as District Court judge, is running for a 15-year re-election along with Thomas J. Bollinger, Norris J. Byrnes, Robert E. Cahill and Edward A. DeWaters.

He says he knows DePazzo well from having seen him at work in District Court. "That flamboyant character follows him into the courtroom. He's a bit of a showman."

"But in fairness to Lou, he is always well prepared," Kahl says.

"He's a matter of concern to us," adds Kahl. Del. John S. Arnick, who represents the same district as DePazzo and who has applied for the Circuit Court in the past without success, believes DePazzo has a good chance of slipping by an incumbent.

"Lou's name will be the most-known name on the list," Arnick says. "And if no one comes out to vote, Lou has the capacity to get his people out to the polls."

While DePazzo has often been labeled a demagogue because of his emotional speeches at public events, few people are ready to criticize him openly.

An exception is Volz, the former councilman from Dundalk, who is still bitter over DePazzo's actions during the election campaign.

"I don't know what kind of judge he would make and I guess my opinion doesn't matter anyway," Volz says. "I just found that he couldn't be trusted. When he gave his word, he broke it."

Volz is still angry because, while DePazzo was a member of a ticket that included Volz, Rasmussen, Arnick and two other politicians, DePazzo openly campaigned for Republican Roger B. Hayden for county executive and Donald Mason for councilman.

Like him or hate him, most people agree DePazzo is a character.

One state legislator recalled several of DePazzo's speeches on the House floor. "Just about every time he stood up he had us in stitches."

Strutting around the Dundalk District Court, DePazzo gives the appearance of a master performer at work.

"In most every [district] courthouse," DePazzo says, "it's about 50 people who cause all the problems. It's true," he says, pausing a beat, then calling to a cop.

"Hey, blue!" he says, repeating his theory and nodding his head furiously as the cop agrees with him. "See, I told you."

Rolfes, who had no lawyer when he showed up for his disorderly conduct trial, begs DePazzo to represent him.

"How much would you charge to represent me, Lou?" he asks.

"How much money do you have with you?" DePazzo responds, then roars with laughter when he hears the ridiculous answer: $8.

"Come on, Lou, I'm good for it," Rolfes continues, laughing with DePazzo. "You know my father, right? I'm good for it, Lou."

DePazzo turns on Rolfes again, asks if he has a job, then chides him when the answer is no.

But he agrees to represent Rolfes.

"What he might lose in a legal fee, he'll make up in the voting booth," says one lawyer.

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