Salvatore N. Butta, 67, Orphans' Court judge and community activist

October 22, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Salvatore N. Butta, a community activist, Orphans' Court judge and the former supervisor of Baltimore County's District Court commissioners, died of lung cancer Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Mr. Butta was 67 and lived in Rosedale.

His compassion for people and his political acumen made him a natural mediator for friends and associates who came to him with their troubles.

"The phone would ring at all hours of the day and night, and he'd get up and take the call and try to help the person out," said his son, Mitchell Butta of Kingsville.

Mr. Butta was appointed a District Court commissioner in 1969, in the old magistrate system, and stayed on as a commissioner when the Maryland District Court system was created in 1971.

He retired in 1995 as managing District Court commissioner for Baltimore County, which meant supervising the county's 23 District Court commissioners.

In 1998, he was one of three candidates elected as judges to Baltimore County Orphans' Court and was serving in the part-time position at the time of his death.

As an Orphans' Court judge, he handled estate matters such as determining the authenticity of wills and resolving family disputes over assets.

As a court commissioner, he reviewed complaints filed by police and private citizens, decided whether criminal charges were necessary, issued warrants and set bail if a suspect was arrested.

"It's a tough job because these commissioners are on the front lines. They can call a state's attorney for advice, but basically they have to use their instincts and decide whether someone gets bail or not," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel, a former administrative judge who worked closely with Mr. Butta.

In 1975, Mr. Butta was appointed to serve as Baltimore County's managing District Court commissioner.

"He was an outstanding advocate for the commissioners, in getting them better benefits and working conditions," said Judge Hinkel, who appointed Mr. Butta to the position.

Mr. Butta was born and reared in Highland, the son of Salvatore P. Butta, a produce merchant who sold fruit and vegetables from a pushcart on city streets.

He graduated from City College in 1952. He sold real estate and insurance and worked briefly at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point shipyard before his work in Democratic circles earned him his appointment as a commissioner.

In 1952, he married Gloria J. Polkowski of Rosedale, who survives him.

The couple resided in the Eastwood section of Dundalk, where they raised three children, before moving to Rosedale 15 years ago.

Before being appointed District Court commissioner, Mr. Butta was active in community and civic groups in Eastwood. He served on recreation councils and lobbied county and school officials for construction of Eastwood Elementary School and creation of a community playground.

"He was always active in politics, and not for himself, but as a means to get improvements for the community," said Fred Demski, a longtime friend.

Mr. Butta retired as a commissioner in 1995 to spend time with his wife, who retired two years earlier as chief of the civil department in the Baltimore County Circuit Court clerk's office.

But he came out of retirement in 1998 when friends persuaded him to run for a seat on Baltimore County Orphans' Court.

"He was a go-getter and a real active guy, and I think in retirement he got restless," Mr. Demski said.

Over the years, Mr. Butta was a regular at Italian festivals and church bazaars, where he often baked the fried dough sold at booths sponsored by Italian-American organizations.

He was a member of the Appian Society and the National Italian American Foundation and was a past president of three lodges of the Sons of Italy: the Dundalk, Del Barto and Capri lodges. At the time of his death, he also was a member of the Towson-Dulaney Order of the Sons of Italy.

He also was president of the Hazelwood Park AARP in Rosedale, enjoyed golf and was a Baltimore Colts fan.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Church of the Annunciation in Rosedale.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two daughters, Debra Bright of Baltimore and Barbara Butta of Alexandria, Va.; a brother, Anthony Butta of Baltimore; a sister, Domenica Greensfelder of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

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