Ralph Wilson Powers Sr., 89, was judge in the 1972 trial of Arthur Bremer

January 24, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Ralph Wilson Powers Sr., a retired judge who presided over the trial of Arthur H. Bremer, who shot Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace at a campaign rally in Laurel in 1972, died Sunday of cancer at Ginger Cove Retirement Community in Annapolis, where he had lived since 1990. He was 89.

Judge Powers had a reputation as an efficient and no-nonsense judge. In his office in the Prince George's County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, only a clock and a pen set were on his desk. The desk was absolutely free of paper.

In the Bremer case, the jury was selected and a guilty verdict rendered in five days. Judge Powers sentenced Bremer to 63 years in prison.

Judge Powers did not grant continuances and did not allow extraneous material in cases he was hearing. He also did not suffer unprepared lawyers whom he sometimes terrified in court.

"He had been an old Army colonel and he treated lawyers that way," said Judge James P. Salmon of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, who practiced before Judge Powers as a lawyer. "When you came into his courtroom, you had better be prepared.

"I remember a young lawyer who asked that a trial be postponed because his wife was expecting their first child that day. Judge Powers advised him that first babies are often late and the trial was going forward. The baby was born several days later.

"He was everything you wanted in a Circuit Court judge. He was efficient and no-nonsense. He could conduct a nonjury trial faster than anyone I ever saw."

His son, Ralph W. Powers Jr. of Fairhaven, remembered one particular day in Judge Powers' career.

"He once conducted three jury trials in one day, which gave rise to the comment around the courthouse that it was 'justice-a-go-go,' " his son said with a laugh.

No matter the case he was hearing, Judge Powers kept to a long established daily routine that included a quick midday swim at home followed by lunch.

"He was always extremely punctual and no one knows to this day how he did it, but he would be back on the bench in an hour," his son said.

Born in Canyon, Texas, Judge Powers moved to Hyattsville in 1921. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1928 from the University of Maryland and a law degree from George Washington University in 1931.

Admitted to the bar that year, he practiced law until 1960, when he was appointed by Gov. J. Millard Tawes to the 7th Judicial Circuit that includes Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. He was chief judge from 1971 until he retired in 1976.

He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1936 to 1942 and during World War II he served with the Counter Intelligence Corps in Europe. He was discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1946.

A dignified, stately man who was a conservative dresser, he was a favorite of lawyers and judges.

"He was one of the most highly respected trial judges in the state," Judge Salmon said.

Judge Powers lived for years at Drumsheugh, his home in Upper Marlboro, where in the evening he enjoyed a martini and a cigar.

He was a member of many professional and civic organizations.

In 1935, he married Penelope Dear LeClair, who died in 1979.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 1411 Oak Grove Road, Upper Marlboro, where he was a communicant.

Other survivors include his wife, the former Eleanor Calvert, whom he married in 1980; a daughter, Beryl Powers Robinson of Vancouver, Wash.; and six grandchildren.

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