Baltimore's newest judge has no hubcaps on her car.
It's not that Althea Handy, 45, is looking to save a few bucks. It's that the newly appointed Circuit Court judge sees replacing them as an exercise in futility because thieves likely would strike again when she parks her green 1992 Camry in her West Baltimore neighborhood.
"I've replaced them three times," said Handy, 45, who has bars on the windows of her Lafayette Square condominium and sometimes hears gunshots at night. "Once, I think I bought them back from the thief."
The former city prosecutor, who will be sworn in today, doesn't plan to move even though she now has one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in the city and an annual salary of $119,000.
Although the judicial bench is in some ways a far cry from the world Handy saw growing up in Anne Arundel County, in other ways it is close to the world she lives in now, a neighborhood she loves but jokingly refers to as "the 'hood."
"I've prosecuted cases where the crime scene is within walking distance from my home," said Handy, sitting in her sunny living room, which has tall windows and faces tree-lined Lafayette Square. "But I love where I live. There's five churches on the square. Former Congressman Parren Mitchell used to live on the square."
Handy has been in charge of the state's attorney's sex offense division for the past three years. Before that, she worked in the homicide, felony, juvenile and misdemeanor divisions in the office. In all, she spent 15 years as a prosecutor. Yesterday was her last day on the job.
Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy, who encouraged Handy to apply for the judgeship, calls her an "urban pioneer."
"That's what I call folks who have professional degrees and decent incomes who live in places like that but could live anywhere in the city," Gordy said. "She puts her body where other people's mouths are. You can't question her commitment to the city."
Gordy said Handy also stands apart from others in the courthouse because of her temperament.
"She can stand under a withering fire and keep her composure, which is a very valuable trait as a judge," Gordy said. "She has a certain air about her that she exudes without volume and without a lot of histrionics."
`A real community'
Handy is known in the prosecutor's office as a boss who works weekends, will not use an exclamation stronger than "dag," and who almost always shows up in court when one of her prosecutors is waiting for a verdict from a jury.
"She will stay with you in court," said Adam C. Rosenberg, one of six prosecutors in the sex offense unit. "She doesn't like you to be in court alone when you get your verdict. She's made this unit a real community."
A lawyer who had to overcome her shyness to go to trial, Handy worked with the most heinous crimes in the city for a decade and a half, but says she has not become jaded by them.
"Every case is different, every victim is different," Handy said. "If you have compassion for people, you don't get hardened by that. Every autopsy is someone's brother, sister, son, daughter. If you're nonchalant about it, you shouldn't be doing it."
During the summer, Handy sat in on one of Rosenberg's cases. Former teacher David A. Czajkowski, 38, pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse for fondling fourth- and fifth-grade pupils at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Hampden.
The courtroom was tense, filled with young girls who had been molested by a trusted teacher. As Rosenberg read the statement of facts to the court, the girls hung their heads, and a single tear rolled down Handy's face.
It would be logical to assume Handy, as chief of the sex offense unit, was feeling emotional for the girls who had been abused. But that was only part of the story.
"I was sad for everybody. Did you see the defendant's wife and parents and in-laws there?" Handy said. "It was sad for everyone."
`One of the best'
One of Handy's most notable cases was that of Richard "Ricky" Green, who was found guilty in 1997 of murdering the 81-year-old mother of Annapolis District Judge Joseph P. Manck.
Beatrice Lippman Manck was found strangled and stabbed in the chest in November 1995, after a break-in and robbery in her apartment in Northwest Baltimore.
Handy tried the case before Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas.
After watching her try that case and dozens of others since, Prevas has concluded that Handy will be "one of the best judges that ever sat on the circuit."
"She has the right combination of human skills and legal skills," Prevas said. "She is a compassionate person and she is reasonable. I would have a lot of confidence going before her as a litigant."
Handy also has won the respect of many defense lawyers she has been pitted against in court. Attorney Margaret A. Mead said Handy has a "judicial temperament."