Judge Sybert to retire from bench career in law has spanned 40 years

January 26, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

Howard Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. has announced he plans to retire this spring, saying it's time for him to relax after nearly four decades in the justice system.

The 66-year-old Ellicott City resident, a former county prosecutor and private attorney, sent a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening last Thursday announcing his plans to retire after 7 1/2 years on the bench.

"I've been doing this for 40 years," Judge Sybert said. "I just want to slow down a little bit and relax a little bit."

Judge Sybert's retirement becomes official May 1, although he will step down March 31 to take accumulated leave.

Louis Willemin, a public defender and president of the Howard Bar Association, said some lawyers are concerned that Judge Sybert's retirement will worsen the court's backlog of cases.

The state General Assembly had budgeted money for Howard Circuit Court to get a fifth judge next month, but Maryland officials have yet to begin the selection process for the judgeship because of the change in governors.

"Obviously, we're a very considerable time away from filling that judgeship," Mr. Willemin said.

Administrative Judge Raymond Kane Jr. said he and the Circuit Court's two other judges will be able to handle the docket until the new judges are named.

"We'll do whatever has to be done," Judge Kane said. "But we hope the appointments won't be unduly delayed."

Columbia attorney Clarke Ahlers used words such as calm, kind and "absolutely gentlemanly" to describe Judge Sybert, who he said would often give attorneys latitude to prove their case.

Mr. Willemin said he believes one of Judge Sybert's greatest skills is his ability to maintain decorum in his courtroom -- sometimes a difficult task when tempers flair between opposing attorneys.

Judge Sybert, an Elkridge native known for telling stories about his family and county history, was appointed to the bench in October 1987, leaving a law firm he had with his father. The judge, who received a law degree in 1956, was state's attorney from 1962 to 1966 after a stint as an assistant prosecutor.

Once he retires, the judge said he will spend his time golfing, traveling and relaxing with his family. He said he will open a small law practice specializing in wills and estates.

Judge Sybert said he will miss jury trials, particularly in criminal cases. He said it's sometimes difficult for him to refrain from interrupting proceedings, wondering why a lawyer doesn't ask a certain question or call a particular witness.

But Judge Sybert said he won't miss the Circuit Court's burdensome caseload, which has increased to 7,380 filings last year -- nearly double the number of cases when he became a judge.

Judge Sybert has presided over several significant cases.

Last October, he dismissed much of the prosecution's evidence against a man facing drug charges. His ruling lambasted Howard County police detectives, saying they arrested the man simply because they saw "a suspicious look in his eye."

Among civil cases, Judge Sybert threw out the Howard County Council's election redistricting plan of 1991 on procedural grounds, a ruling that aggravated partisan debate on the council, which took months to resolve.

Judge Sybert said he never hesitated to hand out a life sentence when a criminal deserved such a penalty. But he said he has agonized over some cases, particularly divorce and custody cases.

"I hate those," said the judge, who has six children. "To me, [the parents] are both pulling at the kids."

To resolve these cases, Judge Sybert said he talks privately with the children and then their parents.

Judge Sybert said one of his biggest regrets is that his father, Cornelius Ferdinand Sybert Sr., never saw him become a judge. The elder Mr. Sybert, who died in 1982, served as a state delegate, senator, attorney general and as a Court of Appeals judge.

"I really try to emulate him and follow in his footsteps," he said.

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