Judge Gerstung dies was on bench 25 years

April 05, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Judge Robert J. Gerstung, a witty lawyer and teacher with more than 25 years of service on Maryland's Municipal and District Courts, died yesterday at his summer home at Betterton of an apparent heart attack. He was 61.

He had enjoyed the Easter weekend with members of his family at Evergreen Knoll, a small colony of summer cottages on the Sassafras River started by his late father. The judge was reading and resting about 1 p.m., a daughter said, when he was suddenly taken ill and collapsed. Paramedics were unable to revive him.

Born in East Baltimore, where a family business, Gerstung's Bakery, was well-known to generations of city residents, the longtime Republican was appointed to the old Municipal Court by then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew. He was sworn in Jan. 3, 1969.

When the municipal system was replaced by the present District Court in 1971, Judge Gerstung became one of its original 22 members and, at his death, was the most senior -- the only one of the 22 still on that bench, Chief District Judge Robert Sweeney recalled last night.

"He had a scholarly bent and was an excellent lawyer and judge. He knew the law and loved the law. He was witty and his integrity was unquestioned. He was not only well-educated himself, but was a marvelous educator," Judge Sweeney said of his colleague and friend since childhood.

Judge Gerstung helped start an education program for new judges in Maryland, considered a model for other states.

"He was a mainstay of what we call the 'Baby Judge School,' " Judge Sweeney said, "and an indication of his sense of humor was what he called one of his lectures -- 'I Wish I Hadn't Said That.' "

For many years, Judge Gerstung taught night school classes in political science and the philosophy of the law at Loyola College and was a founder of "Law Day," an annual event in May on the Loyola campus.

Judge Gerstung received his early education at St. Elizabeth of Hungary School near Patterson Park in East Baltimore and graduated from Mount St. Joseph's High School in Irvington.

He was a 1954 graduate of Villanova University near Philadelphia and received graduate degrees from the University of Maryland xTC Law School and the Johns Hopkins University. In 1988, he earned a master of theology degree from St. Mary's Seminary and University.

Admitted to the Maryland bar in 1957, he maintained his own law office in Baltimore and practiced briefly with the firm Wyatt and Jones, before his appointment to the Municipal Bench.

He had been active in Republican politics and made unsuccessful runs for city council president and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Later, the longtime Northwood resident campaigned unsuccessfully for a place on the Circuit Court in Baltimore. During his long tenure on the District Court, he often presided in the Circuit Court on special assignment.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

Judge Gerstung is survived by his wife of 35 years, the former Elizabeth Margaret Long; a son, Matthew Karl Long Gerstung of New Orleans; four daughters, Elizabeth Christina Beusch of Baltimore, Susanna St. Clare Chalaire of New Orleans, Margaret Dorothea Gerstung of Easton and Alice Mary Pierce Gerstung of Baltimore; and two granddaughters and one grandson.

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