Anne Arundel Circuit judge decides to bring gavel down on 15-year career on bench

Rushworth to retire, but he hopes to fill in

November 29, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The judicial certificates are gone. So are most of the books.

And in two weeks, their owner, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth, will also be leaving -- retirement-bound after about 15 years on the District Court and Circuit Court benches.

At 65, Rushworth is five years shy of the mandatory retirement age. But he said recent knee surgery, a desire to travel, changes in the practice of law, and financial considerations led him to conclude that the timing was right.

"It's traumatic," Rushworth said. "This is my courtroom."

But Rushworth is not second-guessing his decision. That he leaves to appellate judges.

He hopes to come out of retirement to fill in when dockets get crowded, as do many judges around the state. The Arnold resident is also thinking of turning an eye to politics.

"I'd even consider running for some minor office," he said.

Rushworth is known for a low-key approach to cases that came before him, whether they were family, contractual, malpractice or criminal matters.

"He had a great judicial temperament. He was very patient, and he paid a great deal of attention to what you had to say," said lawyer George S. Lantzas.

"I can say something malicious about almost everyone I know except Larry," said T. Joseph Touhey, Rushworth's former law partner. "He is truly a nice guy, always a gentleman."

`Sorry to see him go'

In criminal cases, Rushworth often remarked during sentencing about the destructive aspects of the offenses. His sentences tended toward the high end of state guidelines.

"We as prosecutors are generally happy about that, and sorry to see him go," said Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

After operating businesses and practicing law, Rushworth began working as a public defender in 1972. He was named to the District Court in 1985 and elevated to the Circuit Court bench in 1989.

Rushworth has been moved by the sadness in some cases -- nearly to tears, when he sentenced Michael Swartz in 1991 for killing a man over a jar of quarters. Though the defendant lived in foster homes and suffered emotional abuse as a child, Rushworth imposed a penalty of life without parole.

High-profile case

Last year, in a high-profile case, he ruled against Gov. Parris N. Glendening, ordering the governor to give telephone and scheduling records to the Washington Post. The case sticks out in Rushworth's mind -- not for its prominence, he said, but for the mountains of records he reviewed each night before reaching a decision.

Two District Court cases generated stacks of mail that astounded him. Both were animal abuse cases in which he gave offenders the maximum sentence for what he considered vicious behavior. Animal lovers around the country commended him.

"He did a good job over here, and I hate to see him leave," said Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner, who will reach mandatory retirement age in about two years. "I'll miss him."

Changing practices

Nowadays, Rushworth said, there is a rush to litigate -- whereas when he received his law degree in 1960, lawyers felt an obligation to settle. Agreements made final with a handshake a generation ago now are quickly put on the record before either side can back out.

With the legal process growing more complex, it is common for attorneys to be unfamiliar with finer points of law, which often means more homework for the judge.

But, he said, "it's a grand job."

A sense of satisfaction comes from helping the people involved in the more than 30,000 cases he's ruled in.

Outside the courtroom, he has a wry sense of humor. In recent weeks, as his caseload dwindled, he quipped that the Linda R. Tripp wiretap case would be transferred to him from Howard County.

A letter to a friend, in which he wrote that he was accused of being politically conservative, was typed exclusively on the right side of the paper.

Saving memorabilia

He likes to save things -- books, unusable auction finds, military memorabilia -- and he has mused about whether he could leave his belongings in his judicial chambers and "come visit it every so often." He estimated that he has amassed enough material to nearly fill a three-car garage -- though he kept nothing from two years of technical work with the Baltimore Colts about 40 years ago.

"He will buy anything. He could retire from being a judge and become a junk dealer," Touhey said.

A fascination with military history has led to a collection that includes obscure history tomes and handmade military swagger sticks.

But Rushworth is divesting himself of some items, if for no other reason than the insistence of Margaret, his wife of 35 years.

He will offer personal papers of a long-deceased career Army nurse who was his client to her former nursing school -- papers he brought from his Glen Burnie law office to his District Court and Circuit Court offices.

And for two years he has invited people to take books from his extensive collection.

Seeking successor

Rushworth's decision to retire set off speculation about whom Gov. Parris N. Glendening would name as a successor.

Of the 13 lawyers seeking the post, five received recommendations from the nominating commission Wednesday. They are: District Court Judges Nancy Davis-Loomis and Paul A. Hackner, juvenile and domestic master Cynthia M. Ferris, lawyer Charles F. Obrecht Jr. and Assistant State's Attorney Frank J. Ragione Sr.

Who will get Rushworth's courthouse office, which features a view of Spa Creek, is a different matter. Judges can request to relocate there, and the one with seniority will be chosen.

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