Charles J. Kelly Sr., retired Harford district judge

June 27, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Charles J. Kelly Sr., a Harford County resident most of his life and the first District Court judge there, died Friday of cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 75.

Judge Kelly -- who also was a lawyer and a former Aberdeen town official -- was appointed to the bench in 1971, when the state's district court system was inaugurated. He served as a trial judge and the district's chief administrative judge until his retirement in 1984.

He was remembered by those who worked with him as a jurist who respected people as much as the law in his courtroom.

"He struck me as being a very caring person. He was more interested in the people before him rather than the the fact that they had committed an offense," said Judge John Landbeck Jr., who was appointed to replace Judge Kelly.

Judge Landbeck described Judge Kelly as his mentor, a man who taught him "to try to treat every individual with respect, no matter what their charges were."

PD Edward L. Utz, now the chief clerk of the state's district court

system, worked for Judge Kelly as administrative clerk for the District Court in Harford County.

"I think the bar will think of him as an extremely learned judge, one who knew the law inside and out and was able to apply it with a judicial temperament that all wish they might have," Mr. Utz said.

Judge Kelly lived all but his first year in Harford County, moving there from his Pottstown, Pa., birthplace in 1918 when his father took an Aberdeen Proving Ground job.

"He was the old Harford County. He was Harford County before all the suburbs, when there was lots of countryside and farmers," said county State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.

"I think the first ticket I got, I remember going to him. He was a magistrate, sitting at the Abingdon Fire Hall," Mr. Cassilly said. "We spent more time discussing my grandfather, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles and my family. He knew everybody."

The judge was also remembered for his sense of humor, which helped initiate a neophyte attorney who later became Judge Landbeck.

After an operation on toes, the young adjunct public defender arrived in court with bandages but with no shoes on.

Judge Kelly delivered his opening instructions as usual, Judge Landbeck remembered, "and then he said, 'If anybody needs a public defender . . . it's the young man down there with no shoes on."

Judge Kelly was also elected to three terms on the Aberdeen Town Council. During one term, he was president of the council.

His memberships included the Rotary Club, the Loyal Order of Moose and the Volunteer Fire Department in Aberdeen.

A 1935 graduate of Aberdeen High School, Judge Kelly served a year as a Navy medic after graduating in 1944 from the University of Baltimore Law School.

After his Navy service, he began a 26-year general law practice that included everything from filing tax returns to arguing zoning changes to defending criminal defendants.

A Mass of Christian burial for Judge Kelly will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church, Law and Plater streets in Aberdeen.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Ann Middelton; two sons, C. Joseph Kelly Jr. of Baldwin and Bruce M. Kelly of Abingdon; two sisters, Elizabeth Morrell of Baltimore and Margaret Gorrell of Havre de Grace; and four grandchildren.

The family suggested donations to the Pediatric Oncology Friends of Johns Hopkins Hospital, 550 N. Broadway, Suite 801, Baltimore 21205.

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