Judge's look at legal history spurs ceremony

October 20, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

While doing research for "Histories of the Bench and Bar of Baltimore City," a book he co-edited, Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes learned that the City Council and the city's first court shared quarters when the city charter took effect 200 years ago.

This year, Byrnes informed the City Council that the bicentennial of the council's first meeting was Feb. 27, 1997, and that the occasion should be celebrated. But the council decided to wait until fall to mark the event.

So Wednesday, during a ceremony to celebrate the start of this year's Circuit Court term,the council will hold a commemorative meeting in the courthouse.

As part of the celebration, the public will be able to pick up free copies of the 138-page book, which includes histories of the courthouse and the federal court in Baltimore and chronicles the rise of women and African-Americans in the court system.

The book is a collaborative effort of the Baltimore Courthouse and Law Museum Foundation, the judges of the Circuit Court and the Bar Association of Baltimore City.

Byrnes wrote one of the book's six chapters. He and many others began work on the book five years ago because no comprehensive history of the Circuit Court existed.

"As I began to trace the origins of the court," he said, "I couldn't find anything that brought together all of the pieces of the courts."

Byrnes said that in writing his chapter, "Evolution of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, 1632-1997," he was surprised by the changes in the judicial approach over the years.

"The bench and bar was a very closed affair and dealt with very precisely detailed legal issues on the civil equity side and guilt and innocence on the criminal side," Byrnes said. "Today, in this circuit, it's a much more holistic approach to justice."

Wednesday, the council will introduce a resolution marking the 200th anniversary of the legislative body but it won't be able to re-enact the first meeting, according to Peter Dolcart, the council's assistant for special projects.

"No one knows for sure what was said at the first council meeting," Dolcart said. "We found something about the first mayor's message, but there wasn't much on what happened in that first meeting. We'll celebrate the first meeting, and that's about as close as we'll come to re-enacting it."

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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