Well-wishers praise departing judge for kindness, caring

More than 250 people attend party to honor Arnold's career

May 07, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Francis Miller Arnold, a popular Carroll County judge who retires today, didn't set out to be a lawyer: His father was a painter and a trapper, and he himself worked as personnel manager for Black & Decker Manufacturing Co. before heading to college in his 30s.

But as a boy growing up in Westminster, near an apple orchard that's now a Route 140 truck center, something drew him to its historic courthouse.

Painted white at the time, the building seemed to shine, Arnold recalled. "As a kid, I don't know, something was sort of calling to me. I can't explain it, but I thought I would like to be there some day."

The judge pointed out a photograph from that time hanging on the wall of his chambers in the same courthouse, where he has served as Circuit Court judge for nine years, after 10 years on the District Court.

Arnold must leave today because he turns 70, the mandatory retirement age for Maryland judges, on June 13 and has accumulated vacation time.

"There was a time when I didn't think there should be a mandatory age to retire," Arnold said in an interview last week, as he neared his last day on the bench. "But who goes to someone who's been a judge for 20 years and says, `You're starting to lose it'? So I have decided on balance that it's a good idea. It's time young people took over."

But the 250-plus people who honored the judge at a surprise banquet Wednesday night seemed to disagree. Chaired by fellow Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., the event featured Robert F. Sweeney, the longtime chief judge of Maryland's District Court system, who also had to retire upon reaching age 70.

"Frank Arnold has occupied a special place in my thoughts and my respect for a long time," Sweeney said, describing Arnold as a man of rare talent, great common sense, compassion and courtesy. Sweeney said court files showed dozens of compliments and not one complaint in the 35,000 to 40,000 cases that Arnold handled on the District Court.

"He was the very embodiment of all a judge should be because long before he was a judge or even a lawyer, he was a good, solid, decent man." Sweeney said Arnold "was the kind of person I could call up at the end of the day when faced with a thorny problem."

Carroll County Del. Joseph M. Getty read a House of Delegates message of congratulations. Frank Coleman, head of the county bar association, presented gifts and praise for Arnold's courteous treatment of lawyers and their clients, despite "our sometimes ridiculous arguments. Thank you, for a job well done."

The guests included about 20 judges from around the state, lawyers and politicians, bailiffs, clerks and friends -- including Arnold's first law clerk, who came from Virginia, and Roger Lindsay, a longtime friend who amused the crowd with magic tricks -- one of Arnold's hobbies.

Arnold plans to enjoy his 50-by-50-foot flower and vegetable garden and his 70 roses, "which need an awful lot of work," and to play a lot of golf. But it won't last long, as he'll be back on the bench as a senior judge for two weeks in July. Retired judges can work up to a third of a year.

When the late Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore Sr. retired, Arnold was named to fill the vacancy in December 1990.

Soon after, Arnold said, he was exploring the old courthouse and found his father's signature painted inside the cupola. "He was a house painter. He must have painted it at one time," he said. During the Depression, when people couldn't afford paint, his father, Snyder Miller Arnold, "trapped and sold muskrat, fox, skunk, about anything. We'd eat the meat, and he'd sell the fur."

Arnold entered the Marine Corps after graduating from Westminster High School in 1946 and was headed for Parris Island a week later. He served from 1946 to 1948 and from 1950 to 1951, when he left active duty. That year he and his wife, Evelyn, were married. He worked as a personnel manager at Black & Decker in Hampstead before beginning college at night at the University of Baltimore in 1959. He finished law school there in 1967, with honors, and was admitted to the Maryland bar.

"It took me eight years," Arnold said, "but I thought a law degree would be better than personnel."

In 1975, he quit Black & Decker and went into private practice in Hampstead. Five years later, he was named to the District Court.

Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes recalled, "I worked with him in District Court when I was a young prosecutor. He was always a pleasure to be in front of as a trial attorney. He has an excellent temperament, and he always takes an extra amount of time to review and he took great care in rendering his decisions," Barnes said. "I know we will sorely miss him on the bench because he is an accomplished jurist.

"All that -- and he's a Marine too."

Raymond E. Beck Sr., the administrative judge for Carroll Circuit Court, sat between Arnold and a local lawyer in law school in the 1960s.

"I'm going to miss him terribly -- he's been my mentor. He's a super guy, a nice man," Beck said.

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