Martin A. Kircher Sr., 69, Baltimore district judge

January 08, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Baltimore District Judge Martin A. Kircher Sr. died of cancer Tuesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Homeland resident was 69.

Judge Kircher was a former member of the House of Delegates from the city's old 3rd District.

"He was the dean of our bench because he had been there the longest," said Administrative Judge Keith E. Mathews. "He was highly thought of by both attorneys and his fellow judges, most of whom had trained under him. There is certainly a lot of him in us."

"He was extremely compassionate to all defendants," said District Judge Barbara B. Waxman, who got to know Judge Kircher when she appeared before him as a young attorney 20 years ago. "He had a good heart, and he brought it to the bench."

A former longtime resident of Northeast Baltimore, Judge Kircher heard criminal, traffic and civil cases. Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed him to the District Court in 1973.

"The court and legislature were his passion, and he served both with great distinction," Mr. Mandel said yesterday.

A soft-spoken man of scholarly mien who had a wry sense of humor, Judge Kircher often was sympathetic to first-time offenders and those accused of nonviolent crimes. But he quickly earned a reputation as a "hanging judge" for his tough sentencing of those convicted of carrying or using guns illegally.

"I believe the streets of Baltimore are bad, but if everyone starts carrying a pistol, then the streets are going to get worse," he told The Sun in a 1977 interview.

"Prison will not rehabilitate, but I have no other choice. Anyway, if I give a guy eight years, he'll be back out on the streets in two and a half," he said.

Known for his fairness, Judge Kircher could be creative in sentencing.

In 1981, two Baltimore Clippers hockey players disputed a bar bill at the Holiday Inn in East Baltimore. They were arrested after they urinated on the fender of a police car in the parking lot. Judge Kircher found goalie James R. Lockhurst and defenseman Gordon W. Gejdos guilty but granted them probation before verdict and ordered them to perform community service.

"At this time of the year, police cars are dirty," Judge Kircher said and ordered them to wash several cruisers.

"I think he made them wash five police cars and, because it was late winter, they were covered with salt," said a son, Martin A. Kircher Jr. of Pikesville.

"Another time, several teen-agers had vandalized a newly painted garage," the son recalled. "He ordered them to sand and repaint the garage, and he also told them he would send them to jail if they didn't keep the alley behind the building clean. He told them that he would be checking, and if he found as much as one broken bottle, they'd be off to jail."

Frank C. Robey Jr., a former member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore City and a former Baltimore County administrative officer, recalled the time his wife appeared before Judge Kircher for a parking violation.

"She had taken our son to Union Memorial Hospital and had parked on 33rd Street during an Orioles game, which was illegal," said Mr. Robey, now a financial adviser and planner.

"So, she stood trial in front of our friend. Marty probably should have dismissed himself from the case, but he didn't and patiently listened to her sad tale. He found her not guilty and charged her $5 court costs. She looked into her purse and didn't have the money, so he paid it," Mr. Robey said, laughing.

"And I never heard the end of it. He used to say, `What member of the legislature sends their wife to court without money for bail or court costs?' That was Marty. I don't think I ever did pay him back."

Born and raised in Gardenville, the son of a Baltimore police officer, Judge Kircher graduated from City College in 1948. He served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955 and attained the rank of staff sergeant.

He worked as a mail and telephone clerk at Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. while attending the University of Baltimore at night, earning bachelor's and law degrees in 1958.

He began private law practice in 1959 and later became a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Kent, Kircher and Schueffle.

Elected to the House of Delegates from Northeast Baltimore in 1962, he served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where in 1972 he introduced the state's handgun legislation, which is still in effect.

"He was well-respected and a very sincere individual who wasn't vindictive and didn't play political games," said Mr. Robey, who served in the legislature with Judge Kircher. "He was always willing to help out his fellow delegates and especially looked out for the new delegates, whom he took under his wing. He gave them fatherly advice and explained to them political etiquette and protocol."

Judge Kircher enjoyed fishing and hunting, and was a member of the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock Fishing Club in Thurmont.

He was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife, the former Sara Nile Stumpf, whom he married in 1952; another son, Kristopher I. Kircher of Pittsburgh; a daughter, Daria Higdon of Carney; a brother, Anthony A. Kircher of Fallston; and six grandchildren.

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