John Bartels, 99, nation's oldest sitting federal judge

February 20, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John R. Bartels, a senior federal judge of the Eastern District of New York and former Baltimorean, died Feb. 13 of heart failure in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He was 99 and had been the oldest sitting federal judge in the nation.

"He was still sitting on cases up until six months ago," said a son, lawyer John R. Bartels Jr. of Stamford, Conn. "He'd walk to the courthouse each day from his house and, at the end of the day, walk back home."

Judge Bartels, the son of a lawyer-accountant, was born and raised on Lake Avenue. He was a 1916 graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

He worked in the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point shipyards during the early days of World War I before enlisting in the Army and serving with a cavalry unit.

He earned his bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1920 and his law degree from Harvard in 1923. He was admitted to the New York state bar in 1924.

"Hopkins gave him the opportunities that opened up his life, and he never forgot them," his son said.

He was founder and first president of the Johns Hopkins Club of New York and received the university's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1967.

He specialized in general civil litigation and corporate law before being appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. He retired in 1973 but continued to hear cases as a senior judge at the Eastern District courthouse in Brooklyn. He made his home in Brooklyn Heights.

Judge Bartels heard a variety of high-profile cases during his long career and was past 90 when he presided over the 1989 trial of Gene Gotti, brother of convicted mob boss John Gotti. Gene Gotti was convicted of operating a multimillion-dollar heroin ring.

Until recently, Judge Bartels traveled by train to Baltimore once or twice a month to visit friends and dine at Haussner's.

"He was considered a tough judge but he really had a soft heart," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who often dined with him at the famous Eastern Avenue restaurant.

Judge Bartels and Anne Bell Willson were married in 1930. She died in 1967.

He is survived by another son, William G. Bartels of Brooklyn Heights; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Graveside services will be held at 1 p.m. today at Parkwood Cemetery, 3310 Taylor Ave. in Northeast Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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