Balto. jurist Murnaghan dies at 80

4th Circuit judge was Walters trustee

September 01, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Francis D. Murnaghan Jr., a liberal-leaning federal appeals judge who helped to more than double the size of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, died yesterday at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care after aneurysm surgery. He was 80 and had lived on Mount Vernon Place for 30 years.

"He was very much a Baltimorean," said H. Mark Stichel, a lawyer and friend. "But there was no other Baltimorean like him."

In Judge Murnaghan's 21 years on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - a tier below the Supreme Court - he was an advocate of free speech who showed concern for criminal defendants and the poor.

"I regard him as a superb legal intellect, a great fighter for justice," said U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, whose 1976 senatorial campaign was chaired by Judge Murnaghan.

Recalled for his exacting legal mind, his quiet, insider's political clout and his tenacity, he was a Walters trustee when he won voter permission to pay for a large addition to the museum in a campaign that had previously foundered. When the new galleries, auditorium and gift shop were completed in 1974, the museum had the space to display hundreds of objects kept in storage since before the 1920s.

"He was passionately devoted to art," said Walters director Gary Vikan. "He was assertive, focused - yes, argumentative. But when the dust settled, it was Frank who said, `It's your call.' He was the ideal trustee."

Mr. Vikan credited Judge Murnaghan with shepherding the Walters from a small, inward-looking institution to a "competitor" on the international scene.

Named a Walters trustee in 1961, Judge Murnaghan was elected board president in 1963, a post he held until 1980, when he became board chairman. He served as chairman emeritus from 1985 until his death and rarely missed a meeting.

Judge Murnaghan's career mixed law, politics and public service with his own avocation - amassing one of the largest private collections of Irish art in the United States.

His father, an Irish-born mathematics department chairman at the Johns Hopkins University, took him to Dublin as a child. There he met his uncle, James, an Irish supreme court justice. He frequently credited his uncle with instilling his passion for art and the law.

Known for his red hair, fiery opinions, lightning-fast wit and love of the city, Judge Murnaghan walked to the federal courthouse downtown for many years and ritually ordered chicken cacciatore or crab at Marconi's Restaurant on Saratoga Street. He also gave talks on his favorite writer, 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope.

In 1954, he joined the Venable, Baetjer and Howard law firm, where he became a senior partner. He represented The Sun on libel and First Amendment issues regarding the press and free speech for nearly 25 years.

Judge Murnaghan was an early proponent for equality in matters of race and gender. In the 1960s, he defended civil rights activists who tried to integrate the Gwynn Oak amusement park in Baltimore County, and in 1967, he ran for mayor on a ticket that included black and Jewish candidates.

"He was an establishment lawyer who backed blacks and women when few were doing that," Senator Sarbanes said.

Named by Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III as school board president in 1968, he kept the post about two years before he resigned in a policy dispute over an outbreak of violence at Eastern High School. When protesters disrupted board meetings, he declined to call in police.

In 1979, he was named by President Jimmy Carter to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, Va., and covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina.

"In a court growing more and more conservative, he always cared most about the people who appeared before him," said Michael Leotta, a lawyer and his former law clerk. "He thought his decisions should make the country a better place for the people who live there."

Judge Murnaghan often was a dissenting voice on the appeals court. Last month, he argued against a Montgomery County ordinance that allowed schools run by churches or synagogues to develop land in residential areas without heeding land-use restrictions.

He also defended the right of public employees and state university professors to use the Internet on sexually related topics. Last year, the Supreme Court adopted much of his reasoning in a decision protecting the Fourth Amendment rights of homeowners.

Born in Baltimore and reared in the Pinehurst community, Judge Murnaghan was a graduate of City College. In 1941, he received a degree from the Johns Hopkins University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and played lacrosse. He took a degree in law from Harvard University in 1948 and was a member of the Harvard Law Review.

He was chairman of the 1964 Baltimore City Charter Revision Commission and sat on Hopkins' board from 1976 to 1990. He also was a board member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

During World War II, he worked in naval intelligence, helping to break the Japanese code. From 1950 to 1952, he was a lawyer in the U.S. Office of the High Commissioner for Germany. He worked to break up Germany's industrial power structure centered at the I. G. Farben chemical works.

In 1949, he married Jane Hughes, an assistant professor at the Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. They divorced in 1972. In 1984, he wed Diana Lee Edwards, an author, art historian and Smithsonian Institution teacher, who survives him.

A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Walters Art Gallery, 600 N. Charles St.

Other survivors include two sons, George A. Murnaghan and Mark D. Maneche, both of Baltimore; three daughters, Sheila H. Murnaghan of Ardmore, Pa., Janet E. Murnaghan of New York and Daria S. Maneche of Boston; a sister, Patricia M. Robertson of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.

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