Former Judge Edward O. Weant Jr. dies at 80

February 13, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward O. Weant Jr., former judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals who was respected for his sternness and compassion, died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at Fairhaven Nursing Center in Sykesville. The lifelong Westminster resident was 80.

Judge Weant was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court, by Gov. Harry R. Hughes in 1979; after his retirement in 1988, he worked as a settlement judge in Carroll County until the early 1990s.

Before being appointed to the Circuit Court for Carroll County by Gov. J. Millard Tawes in 1965, Judge Weant maintained a general law practice in Westminster and served in the Maryland State Senate from 1958 to 1964.

A stickler for courtroom procedure, Judge Weant earned a reputation for his strict adherence to decorum and for not suffering unprepared or ill-dressed attorneys.

"He was a very capable and level-headed judge," said retired chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Maryland Court of Appeals. "He had a great temperament, ran a good courtroom and was widely admired. One thing lawyers don't like are judges who lose their cool and take it out on them."

Said Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, who served with him on the Court of Special Appeals: "There was a 50-page limitation on briefs, and I remember one time when an attorney mentioned an argument in the brief and Judge Weant replied, `I didn't read that far.' You can bet that attorney never again wrote a brief beyond the limitation."

Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. recalled the days when Judge Weant was the only Circuit Court judge in Carroll County.

"If you were a lawyer, you worked to stay on his good side," said Judge Beck. "If you fell out with him, you might as well fold your tent, because for a long time he was the only game in town. He had a stern gaze, and you knew when he was getting tired of you. He'd start to pull his eyebrows and then you knew you had stayed too long."

Judge Weant lived his entire life in the 1890s brick house on Willis Street in Westminster where he was born and raised, the son of an attorney. He was a familiar figure on the streets of Westminster, where he took daily walks to and from the courthouse.

He was a graduate of St. James School and earned his bachelor's degree from Western Maryland College in 1941. He was months away from a master's degree at Harvard Business School when he was drafted into the Army.

He served as a troop commander in the South Pacific and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1946. He entered the University of Maryland School of Law and earned his law degree in 1949.

After being elected to the Senate in 1958, Judge Weant was involved with judicial reform. In 1960, he helped push through a legislative proposal that increased the Court of Appeals from five to seven judges. After a yearlong investigation into the state's penal system, he advocated the abolishment of the state board of corrections and the appointment of a commissioner to oversee Maryland's prisons.

He also helped establish the state's work-release program in 1963.

That same year, he sponsored a move to allow Carroll County residents to vote on whether to approve the Maryland Accommodations law. The law was the first in a state below the Mason-Dixon Line that required public businesses to open to African-Americans.

While serving on the Circuit Court, Judge Weant handed down a decision that declared the state's blasphemy law unconstitutional. Later upheld by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, it was the first court challenge of the law since the Colonial legislature enacted it in 1649, when it carried a death penalty.

An easygoing man who enjoyed woodworking and building grandfather clocks, Judge Weant also was known for his carefully tended roses.

"He really enjoyed a good single-batch bourbon in a crystal glass," said Judge Beck, who dropped by now and again to share a drink and conversation with his old friend.

Judge Weant was a lifelong communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Westminster, where services were held yesterday. He is survived by his wife, the former Sarah Triplett Morriss, whom he married in 1944; and two sons, Edward O. Weant III and Dana Weant, both of Arlington, Va.

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