A family judge retires

Pioneer: Circuit Judge Friedman focused her career on issues affecting women, children, families.

February 06, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, who brought a social work bent to her judicial duties in becoming one of Maryland's most effective advocates for children and families, retired from the bench yesterday.

During her 16 years as a judge, Friedman set case law and helped create Baltimore's pioneering Family Court - a Circuit Court division designed to handle heavy caseloads that demand a light touch.

"She broke ground," said Circuit Court Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller. "She helped create a family division model for the state of Maryland. I think she's outstanding."

During her 23 professional years before she became a judge, she was a teacher, probation officer and divorce lawyer who co-founded the women's law center and the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women and their children.

Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr., who calls himself her "mentee," said Friedman "raised consciousness on the bench."

"I have suffered at her heels for many years and learned enormously from her," Matricciani said. "She was the first woman appointed to the bench who brought a real sensibility of women's issues."

A case she presided over in 1995, Coburn vs. Coburn, paved the way for abusive spouses to be held accountable for a "history of abuse" when they are on trial in Maryland.

William E. Coburn Jr. was found guilty of slapping, punching and threatening his wife, Marcia Coburn. When she applied for a restraining order, her husband objected to her testimony showing he had previously beat her. Friedman allowed the testimony, the husband appealed to the Court of Appeals, and lost. Prior abuse then became admissible in court.

Friedman, born and raised in Baltimore, said she grew up with a deep interest in people and families. After she graduated from University of Maryland Law School in 1966, she earned a master's in social work.

Friedman, one of three judges in Family Court, was the administrative judge in charge of the domestic docket from 1987 to 1996. At the request of the court, she will remain a full-time judge through next month, then sit part-time as a retired judge, as is customary.

Friedman, 61, said she is looking forward to traveling with her husband and spending time with her two children and five grandchildren. Years of presiding over hard cases has taken its toll on her.

"It's difficult to hear cases when parents are killing their children figuratively, if not literally," she said. "It's frustrating to see people who want to fight with each other more than they want to love their children."

Friedman got her start in law working for the Department of Juvenile Justice as a probation officer. She became a partner in private law practice, and in 1985 was appointed to the Circuit Court.

She has been a criminal and civil judge, but spent most of her time working in the family division.

In 2000, she helped to establish Family Court in its current form, a one-stop shop for family matters. It combines courtrooms with parent seminars, medical offices and social service coordinators. Last year, Family Court handled 16,953 new cases.

While she is proud of the strides the court has made, she is keenly aware of the reasons that make it necessary.

"This court is so overwhelmed by cases," she said. "We're like a factory the way we process it. It's a small miracle not to become jaded."

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