Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr., chief judge for Baltimore and Harford counties, announced his retirement yesterday after nearly 30 years on the bench.
DeWaters' decision occurs as the Baltimore County bench undergoes a period of transition. The Towson court faces the departure of four of its 16 judges in the next eight months.
DeWaters, 62, will leave at the end of October. He is the second Baltimore County Circuit Court judge to announce his resignation in less than two weeks.
Last week, James T. Smith Jr. said he is leaving the bench next month to consider a run for county executive. Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. is scheduled to retire by January, and Judge J. William Hinkel is retiring in April, said DeWaters.
While DeWaters serves in the largely ceremonial position of chief judge, he also has the more important job of circuit administrative judge, overseeing the court's day-to-day operations, including budgets and assignment of cases.
Yesterday, DeWaters, a resident of Kingsville in northeast Baltimore County, said his decision to retire was not prompted by any one event.
"I figured I've been here a long, long time and it's time to move on and give somebody else a chance to do the job I enjoyed for so long," he said.
DeWaters will continue to hear cases part time as a retired judge. He and his wife of 37 years, Winnie, plan to travel to Europe.
DeWaters was appointed to the District Court in 1972 by Gov. Marvin Mandel, who named him a Circuit Court judge five years later. He's been chief judge and administrative judge for 11 years.
Yesterday, the state's chief judge, Robert M. Bell, called DeWaters "one of our stalwarts. He's been in leadership for years and done a marvelous job, and I'm not all that keen on his retirement."
He called DeWaters "as steady as they come" and "unflappable."
Bell said he will take his time naming a replacement for DeWaters as administrative judge.
"We're going to take it seriously," Bell said. "The job is extremely important."
DeWaters' ceremonial role as chief judge automatically goes to the judge with the next-highest seniority. That is Hinkel, who will relinquish the role when he retires to Judge John F. Fader.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is responsible for naming a judge to replace DeWaters on the bench. He will review recommendations from a judicial nominating committee.
Yesterday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz, who has shared court chambers with DeWaters for 16 years, said he has conflicting emotions about the retirement of "the only guy I've ever been roommates with."
"I'm very happy for my friend that he will be able to enjoy with his wife, while they're still in relatively good health, his retirement years," Levitz said. "Professionally, I'm very upset because he was a fantastic administrative judge."
Levitz described DeWaters as an even-tempered man who sought the advice of other judges and was never rattled running day-to-day court operations.
"Every morning I see the hordes of people who need to see him about routine problems. He deals with all of it. None of it upsets him. It's really a gift," he said.
During his years on the circuit bench in Towson, DeWaters oversaw construction of a jury assembly room, offices for settlement court judges and three state-of-the-art courtrooms, complete with a trapdoor in the wall behind each judge's chair.
He also was an architect of the state court system's family division, in which some judges hear divorce, custody and other domestic cases almost exclusively.
DeWaters volunteered for the job himself and has heard family-related cases since the division was formed in 1998.
He also sat in juvenile court once a week for 15 years. He said trying to rehabilitate youngsters in trouble "is something worth doing."
DeWaters said he also enjoyed presiding over civil jury trials, particularly medical malpractice cases where he not only dealt with the law, but also got to hear doctors testifying about medical procedures.