Court Commissioner retires again

December 13, 1992|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

Until last month when John Blades Sr. quietly slipped into his second retirement he regularly worked the evening shift and was often the first person in Harford County's court system to meet criminal suspects after they were arrested.

As a court commissioner, he was responsible for ensuring that people showed up for trial, a process that required him to examine a suspect's background and determine whether bail or detention was required.

"Basically, I had to decide whether they [suspects] could be trusted to return to court at a later date to answer the charges against them," said the tall, white-haired baritone, who speaks with military precision.

If Mr. Blades believed a suspect was a bad risk to return and face trial, he could deny or set bail, good faith money that a person would return to stand trial.

A suspect can pay his own bail, which is refundable when he shows up for his trial. Or he can pay a fee of 10 percent of the bail amount to a bondsman who posts a bond for the total. If the suspect fails to appear for a court date, the total bail is forfeited.

"Of course, if someone committed a very serious crime or appeared to be a threat to society, bail was denied," said Mr. Blades, who worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.

"Occasionally, someone would be brought in who was drinking too much or on something [drugs] and I would have to let them spend the night until they were calm enough to deal with."

Mr. Blades, 69, worked on a contractual "as-needed" basis, on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

"We'll miss John Blades and not just because we're short-handed," said Sarah Walker, commissioner of the District Court of Maryland in Bel Air. "With John there was no glory. He just did his job, always ready to fill in when someone was off."

His departure is a second retirement. Mr. Blades retired in 1981 after more than 34 years with the Maryland State Police.

The Churchville resident was hampered by a series of medical problems that culminated in 1987 with multiple bypass heart surgery.

Now, he says, he'll have more time to attend to his duties as chairman of the trustees for the Calvary Methodist Church in Churchville.

And he'll be more available for Sue Alice, his wife of more than 48 years, his sons John Jr. and Tim, and three granddaughters, Julie, 14, Shannon, 14, and Stephanie, 11.

Tim is a civilian engineer and works disposing of chemicals at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Edgewood. Cpl. John Blades Jr. is a veteran of 15 years with the Maryland State Police and assigned to the barracks at North East in Cecil County.

Mr. Blades also served as a trooper in Cecil County. He had joined the state police in 1947 and advanced to deputy superintendent in 1978.

Mr. Blades recalled walking into a bar to break up a fight and the sight of his uniform would stop the brawl.

"Nowadays, two or three troopers go in and have to fight their way out," he said. "The respect for authority is not the same these days."

That's why he said he always reminds Corporal Blades of two things.

"I tell John not to get complacent, to treat every arrest as if it's the one [where the suspect will try to shoot him], and to always wear his [bulletproof] vest," said Mr. Blades.

That advice given, he can relax and start plugging away at more mundane chores such as cleaning the basement. He promised his wife he would do that chore in 1981 and finally started this week.

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