George J. Helinski, 73, District Court judge, Baltimore prosecutor

October 29, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

George J. Helinski, a retired District Court judge and former Baltimore prosecutor, died of cancer Saturday while attending a judicial conference in Solomons. He was 73.

A chatty, well-liked man, Judge Helinski had a reputation as a bright lawyer, a tough prosecutor, an efficient administrator and a dedicated judge.

"He knew how to mesh the punishment or disposition of the case with the facts of the case," said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals. He praised Judge Helinski's demeanor in and out of court, his breadth of knowledge and his commitment to the judiciary.

"You couldn't help but like George," Judge Bell said. "He was always a very gentle guy and willing to give of his time."

In private practice, his most celebrated case was the 1979 criminal defense -- with Joseph F. Murphy Jr., now chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals -- of Mary Rose Robaczynski, a Maryland General Hospital nurse charged with murder. She was accused of disconnecting the life support devices of comatose patients. Her trial concluded with a hung jury, and the state later dropped the charges.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Fells Point, Judge Helinski graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School in 1945 and served two years in the Coast Guard.

He graduated from the University of Baltimore and, in 1953, from its law school. He worked as a bailiff for Judge Joseph R. Byrnes, in Baltimore's old Supreme Bench, before entering private practice in 1954 with Edward B. Rybczynski, a friend from the Polish Students Association in the 1940s.

Mr. Rybczynski said his former partner was considered an expert in search-and-seizure matters and other intricacies of criminal law.

Their partnership took a decade-long hiatus when Judge Helinski joined the city prosecutor's office in 1961. He was an assistant state's attorney until 1964, when Baltimore State's Attorney Charles E. Moylan Jr. named him deputy prosecutor.

When Mr. Moylan was elevated to the Court of Special Appeals, Judge Helinski was passed over for the post as interim state's attorney in 1970 and made an unsuccessful run for the job before returning to private practice.

He was appointed to the District Court bench in 1982 by then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes. Though several years from mandatory retirement when he chose to step down in 1994 to spend more time with his family, he believed that judges should not be forced to automatically retire at their 70th birthday.

Asked to don robes again, the Parkville resident returned in retirement to hear cases wherever the District Court was short a judge. He heard cases until last month.

"He was a stalwart in coming back and working, and being very helpful to the court," said James N. Vaughan, chief judge of Maryland's District Court system.

He was on many committees and study groups, advising the judiciary on traffic and criminal issues and serving as chairman of the Maryland State Bar Association's section on senior lawyers.

He was an accomplished polka dancer, enjoyed camping on Assateague Island and fishing, and jogged daily until a year ago.

A daughter, Martha Powers of Perry Hall, said her parents raised their family in Polish community traditions. "His Polish heritage was important to pass on," she said.

His son, Michael Helinski of Essex, said his father devoted time to such diverse activities as serving as an adult literacy tutor and working on the St. Stanislaus Preservation Society, which sought unsuccessfully last year to keep the Roman Catholic church on Ann Street open.

He had been an active parishioner since the 1960s at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Overlea, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

His wife of 42 years, the former Marie Catherine Idzik, died in 1996. This spring, he wed Carol Stranovski.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Judge Helinski is survived by two other daughters, Barbara Graves of Frederick and Lois Stickles of Perry Hall; three brothers, Robert Helinski of Glen Burnie, Jerome Helinski of North Port, Fla., and Donald Helinski of La Jolla, Calif.; a sister, Bernadette Starrs of Reisterstown; two stepsons, Michael Stranovski of White Marsh and John Stranovski of Westminster; a stepdaughter, Brina Kulis of Baltimore; and 16 grandchildren.

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