Retired federal judge returns to old law firm

November 12, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A story in yesterday's paper about retired federal Judge Norman P. Ramsey should have said Gov. William Donald Schaefer attended the University of Baltimore Law School.

The Sun regrets the errors.

When Norman P. Ramsey announced last year that he planned to leave the federal bench in Baltimore, he didn't envision a retirement filled with games of shuffleboard. He didn't intend to go back to work every day, either.

Yet, Mr. Ramsey remains enmeshed in legal matters as he commands an office at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, the law firm he left in 1980, after then-President Carter appointed him to a federal judgeship.


He went back to Semmes on Oct. 1, the day after he left his seat in U.S. District Court.

"I had no plans to return anywhere," he said this week. "When Semmes approached me about a position, I disqualified myself from cases the firm was involved with and began to consider the offer."

Colleagues say it's hard to imagine him outside the legal loop.

And Mr. Ramsey, 70, understands why. "The law has been my vocation, my avocation, my concentration, my relaxation and my dedication."

The former judge is being honored tonight at a retirement dinner at the Hyatt Regency in an event benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Maryland. His wife, Tucky P. Ramsey, is vice president of the club's board.

Mr. Ramsey said he enjoyed all aspects of his judgeship, except for having to sentence criminal defendants and coping with a rising number of drug prosecutions. He complained about rigid federal sentencing guidelines, which federal judges say have severely impaired their discretion. Congress mandated the guidelines in an effort to see that convicted criminals faced uniform penalties for similar crimes.

"They're miserable," Mr. Ramsey said of the guidelines, in effect since 1987. "They deny judges, who in my book are very good judges, the judgment they are put on the bench to exercise. In some cases, you end up with totally unwarranted sentences."

Andrew D. Freeman, a lawyer who served as a clerk for Mr. Ramsey, said the retired judge was compassionate toward defendants he believed could turn their lives around.

Mr. Freeman added that Mr. Ramsey brought to the bench his strength as a seasoned litigator.

"He was a great trial lawyer before he went on the bench, and he brought a trial lawyer's perspective," Mr. Freeman said.

Geoffrey S. Mitchell, managing partner at Semmes, said Mr. Ramsey is now handling major litigation matters for large firms.

"He's probably the most respected trial lawyer and appellate lawyer in the state, and he brings a unique perspective to legal matters because he knows how the judiciary reacts to them," Mr. Mitchell said.

William F. Gately, a Towson lawyer who once worked with Mr. Ramsey at Semmes, said Mr. Ramsey has "a tremendously active mind."

Lawyers have described him as having a firm grasp of legal issues on the bench and as being very decisive.

Some lawyers complained that he was often unwilling to change his position and that he favored defendants in civil matters.

During his career on the bench, he oversaw the jury trial that convicted former state Sen. Michael Mitchell and his brother, former state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III, on corruption charges. He also sentenced retired CIA agent Thomas C. Clines to 16 months in prison and a $40,000 fine on tax-evasion charges in the Iran-contra affair.

At the University of Maryland Law School, Mr. Ramsey was a classmate of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He ran Mr. $l Schaefer's campaign for mayor in 1969.

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