Judge Ramsey to rejoin Semmes, Bowen law firm

October 01, 1992|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

U.S. District Senior Judge Norman P. Ramsey stepped down from the bench yesterday to rejoin the law firm of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes today, giving a boost to the 135-lawyer firm that has been hurt by the recession and by defections of attorneys over the past several years.

"We were very happy he decided to come with us. There were a number of law firms interested," said Semmes Chairman Geoffrey S. Mitchell. "Judge Ramsey is really coming home."

"I like practicing law with this group of people," said Mr. Ramsey, who took senior status on the bench last year as a prelude to leaving his position. "They're great lawyers, and the kind of people I like to be with."

The 70-year-old judge, who was one of President Jimmy Carter's last nominees to the federal bench, was chairman of the Baltimore law firm before his appointment in 1980. He is a former chairman of the city's school and fire boards as well as its Civil Service Commission, and managed Gov. William Donald Schaefer's first campaign for mayor of Baltimore in 1969.

He said in an interview yesterday that his decision to leave the bench was motivated by his desire to get back to private practice while he was still young enough, rather than because of any problems at Semmes or political factors.

But the old-time Democratic Party activist noted that the presidential election could make for a replacement more in his own image, after Republican presidents overhauled the judiciary with their own people since 1981.

"They don't need any more," Mr. Ramsey said.

Any candidate named by President Bush now would be unlikely to receive Senate confirmation before the inauguration in January.

Mr. Ramsey said he will divide his time between litigation and business law and counseling. He will fill the post of general counsel, which is newly created, and insisted that his arrangement is not like "of counsel" posts in which well-known lawyers sometimes do little more than put their names on the firm's door.

Semmes last week laid off nine associates, a week after five partners and four associates left for competitor Miles & Stockbridge. The firm has also asked its 60 partners for capital contributions averaging $6,000 each to shore up its capital base.

But Mr. Mitchell said the firm is still profitable, though business is down slightly. He said the weakness is concentrated in two of the firm's 12 practice groups and insisted the firm will not follow in the tracks of Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, which folded earlier this year.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that the firm remains a viable firm," Mr. Ramsey said

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