Baltimore County judge gets to the heart of family matters Fader finds his niche in domestic disputes

December 29, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Judge John F. Fader II's benign, fatherly appearance doesn't fool anybody once he starts lecturing troubled families in his Baltimore County courtroom.

The Circuit Court judge tells a divorced couple fighting over visitation with their teen-age sons: "We can't have two armed camps at their weddings."

He tells a belligerent man in leg chains who owes $13,000 in child support: "There are murderers, there are pedophiles, and there are people who don't pay child support."

As the Maryland Court of Appeals considers establishing family courts in Maryland's largest counties, Fader has carved a niche for himself as an authority on family law -- divorce, custody, child support, domestic violence.

They are the kinds of disputes other judges dislike for their sheer emotional drain. Yet Fader -- who teaches family law at the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland law schools -- would choose a divorce case over a murder trial.

He likes the challenge, he says, of "getting people to get along. With this I'm doing more good than a lot of other places."

He notes with sadness that family law is a thriving business.

In Baltimore County, 53 percent of civil suits filed between July 1995 and June 1996 involved divorce, domestic violence and other family issues, according to court statistics.

Fader, who has been on the circuit bench for 15 years, blames the "stress of life" that has led to "the deterioration of family values and the deteriorating family unit."

Now, Maryland's chief judge, Robert M. Bell, is pushing for a family court division in the state's largest jurisdictions.

Early next year the Court of Appeals is expected to consider instituting a family division of the Circuit Court for any county with more than seven judges. Judges sitting in that division would handle divorce, custody, guardianship and other family-related cases.

In an unofficial capacity, Fader has done that in his courtroom -- though he also handles cases not related to family law.

But he keeps track of custody and visitation cases after he hears them, for example, to make sure families adhere to his rulings. If one party complains the other is not following an order, Fader will order the family back to court.

Experience, insight

"Judge Fader is a consummate family law judge," says Towson lawyer Bob Lazzaro, who chairs the family law committee of the county's bar association.

"He does have an uncanny ability to get to the heart of the matter very quickly. I think his experience and insight into dynamics of family problems allows him to do that. And he's not afraid to cut to the quick," says Lazzaro, who has known Fader for 20 years.

Susan Elgin, president of the Women's Law Center and chair-elect of the Maryland Bar Association's family section council, says Fader "puts a lot of time back into the community as far as teaching. He's always willing to teach, and he's an entertaining teacher."

Says Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel, a friend who is running with Fader for re-election next year: "He is probably the judge in Maryland who is the most knowledgeable about family matters."

In addition to Fader's legal background, he maintains his license as a pharmacist. He finished pharmacy school in the 1960s before going to law school and teaches pharmaceutical law.

Playing referee

A recent day in Fader's courtroom is typical, as he plays referee to a divorced couple who never made eye contact.

They come with their lawyers because the husband says his ex-wife wasn't allowing their two teen-age sons to spend time with him. The wife's lawyer says the husband only communicates with nasty letters.

Fader asks the obvious question: "Have you talked to each other?"

He is not surprised when the answer is no.

The judge summons the sons waiting in the hallway. He also HTC calls a mediator to take the family to immediate counseling. "I need the two of you to talk," he tells the parents. "The three most difficult words to say in life are 'I was wrong.' "

He tells the boys, who spent most of the time staring at the carpet: "You have to stay close to these two people because they love you."

Three hours later, Fader is pleased to report that the mediator got the family to agree on visitation times for the father.

"This is what it has to be in the '90s. You can't wait months to have a hearing. This is why this can be a fulfilling job as a lawyer and a judge."

Later, he is less successful getting a man in leg chains to pay his child support.

"The chances are you are going to be jailed for a long period of time," Fader tells him.

The man gives excuses for failing to pay, blaming his drug addiction and other children he says he supports.

"The child who needs clothes, who needs food on the table doesn't understand your excuses," Fader says.

The man responds in a belligerent manner, accusing the judge of treating him with disrespect.

"Hogwash," says the judge, as he asks two deputy sheriffs to stand closer to the man.

The man then launches into a tirade against the judge -- who is trying calmly to tell the man of his rights to a lawyer -- saying he needs no lawyer to represent him.

"Patience, John, patience," Fader says aloud to himself.

"You are no virgin as far as the court system is concerned," he tells the man before ordering the deputy sheriff to take him. "Down the bottom of the list of life are the people who don't pay child support."

Pub Date: 12/29/97

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