Norman P. Ramsey, retired judge

June 16, 1993|By Staff Report

Retired U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey, a Baltimore lawyer who had been a confidant of Maryland political leaders and a president of the city's school and fire boards, died of a heart attack yesterday at Union Memorial Hospital.

Judge Ramsey, 70, had been hospitalized since suffering an earlier heart attack April 10.

He served 11 years on the federal bench before his semi-retirement as a senior judge in 1991. Just six months ago, he had rejoined the Baltimore law firm of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, where he had been chairman before his judicial appointment.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose friendship with Judge Ramsey dated to their meeting as postwar law students, praised him yesterday as "an outstanding jurist and a real inspiration to young lawyers."

In Germany on an economic-development tour, the governor issued a statement lamenting Judge Ramsey's death. "He was a true friend to me and to the community," Mr. Schaefer said. "Whenever I had a problem, I turned to him for help, and he was always ready to take on the next job."

The governor had recently appointed Judge Ramsey to the state Higher Education Commission.

"Judge Ramsey was a lawyer's lawyer who became a judge's judge," said former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett. "He had a remarkable temperament in the courtroom. He absolutely understood what lawyers on both sides of the aisle were trying to accomplish. It's hard to imagine, in my opinion, a better trial judge."

He had vast experience in political corruption cases -- as a defense lawyer for U.S. Senator Daniel B. Brewster and Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson, among others, and as the presiding judge in the trials of former state Sens. Michael and Clarence M. Mitchell III and former City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky.

One of his most celebrated clients was the late political boss Irvin Kovens, whom he defended on federal mail fraud and racketeering charges. The 1977 convictions of Mr. Kovens and five co-defendants, including former Gov. Marvin Mandel, were overturned a decade later.

He was the only judge to preside over a trial of an Iran-Contra defendant whose sentence was not overturned on appeal. A jury in his courtroom convicted retired CIA agent Thomas C. Clines of tax evasion in the affair. Judge Ramsey imposed a sentence of 16 months in prison and $40,000 in fines.

"It's a real mark of distinction that he conducted the trial in such a way that the conviction stood up," said Geoffrey S. Mitchell, current chairman of Semmes, Bowen and Semmes, who persuaded Judge Ramsey to return to the firm.

That return was seen as a stabilizing force after Semmes had been rocked by a number of defections by talented lawyers.

The son of a coal company auditor, Judge Ramsey was born in Fairchance, Pa., and reared there and in West Virginia before his family moved to Lutherville when he was in the sixth grade.

He graduated from Towson High School and Loyola College. His law studies at the University of Maryland were interrupted by World War II and his service as a Marine Corps second lieutenant.

When he returned to law school, Mr. Ramsey found work searching titles at $5 each, and one of his associates was William Donald Schaefer, then a student at the University of Baltimore Law School.

Mr. Ramsey was an assistant U.S. attorney from 1948 to 1950, deputy Maryland attorney general from 1955 to 1957, and head of Baltimore's Civil Service Commission in three mayoral administrations from 1962 to 1970.

He managed the first of Mr. Schaefer's four successful mayoral campaigns, in 1971, and later served him as president of the

school and fire boards -- each briefly, through times of trouble.

The school board appointment came in 1975, amid a racially charged controversy over the ousting of Baltimore School Superintendent Roland N. Patterson.

In January 1980, Mayor Schaefer tapped him again, this time to be chief of the fire board at a time of strained relationships between city government and the firefighters and officers.

Judge Ramsey was described yesterday as "a tower of strength in our community" by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., who recommended his federal judicial appointment to President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

"It's hard to believe that he's gone," said Chief U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. "He was a pillar of this bench. He was an outstanding judge, and prior to coming here, he was one of the pre-eminent lawyers of our generation in this state."

Judge Ramsey was active in the state and American bar associations. He served in the ABA's rule-making house of delegates from 1961 to 1981, and was on track to become president of the national lawyers' group when he was appointed to the bench.

Judge Ramsey's wife of 34 years, the former Margaret "Peg" Quarngesser, died of cancer in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, the former Tucky P. Heller; four daughters, Mary Ramsey of New Hope, Pa., Peggy Ramsey of Glendale, Calif., Christine Ramsey of Narberth, Pa., and Ann Ramsey of Philadelphia; three stepsons, Andrew Heller of Baltimore, Tom Heller of DuBois, Pa., and Gerry Heller of Aptos, Calif.; a stepdaughter, Jill Heller of Longwood, Fla.; three grandchildren; and five step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The family will receive visitors at the Ruck Funeral Home in Towson tomorrow from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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