Judge known for advice, hard work

Retiring: Baltimore County's longest-serving circuit judge is leaving the bench in January.

November 28, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Anyone who has spent much time in Courtroom 11, the 21-year home of Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II, knows that the only person who is right about everything, 100 percent of the time, is Mrs. Fader.

The judge has dispensed that pearl of wisdom countless times in his legato lilt, halting countless high-stakes debates between countless high-strung lawyers. His clerks and assistants know it by heart - to the slight embarrassment of Kathryn Fader.

But as of this month, that piece of advice will be doled out fewer and fewer times in Fader's courtroom, until, in January, it disappears. Because at that point, the recently retired judge will leave his Baltimore County chambers to be a part-time teacher for the University of Maryland School of Law and a full-time grandfather for his two young grandchildren.

"I am hired to inject 26 years of experience on the bench to students," Fader said recently, a leftover "good luck" balloon clinging to the ceiling of his office. "It is a new challenge."

Fader, 62, officially retired as of 12 a.m. Nov. 11. But he will work as a judge through the end of January, to finish the cases he has on his desk.

When he goes, Fader will not just take his story of his wife. He will take his pictures of Abraham Lincoln and the history books lying around his desk. He will take his habit of bringing Hershey's Kisses for the courthouse staff and his tendency toward dry humor on the bench.

Friends say that when he passes on his title of the circuit's longest-serving judge, he will also take away one of the bench's most intellectually curious minds and one of its hardest workers.

"He fell in love with a mistress known as the law," said George McManus Jr., the longtime Baltimore lawyer who gave Fader his first legal job. "You know, the law is a jealous mistress. Because if you get absorbed in the law like John did, it is like you are in love with a jealous mistress who doesn't want anybody else around. You think night and day of the problems to solve for other people."

As a young boy in Baltimore, climbing on the ships that docked in the harbor where his father worked as a representative for Hinkins Steamship Agency, Fader did not dream of becoming a lawyer, let alone a judge.

The law still wasn't on his mind when he enrolled in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. But during school, he became captivated by a pharmacy-law class and its teacher, lawyer Joseph S. Kaufman.

Kaufman changed his life.

"I thought he had a very analytical mind," Kaufman recalled. "I tried to tell him that he ought to go to law school, and he listened."

After he graduated from pharmacy school in 1963, he started attending classes at the University of Maryland School of Law. On the weekends, he worked in a pharmacy. Later, a fellow judge would jokingly introduce him to crowds as "Judge Fader, the man who sold drugs to get himself through law school."

Although he started law school assuming he would work for a large pharmaceutical firm, Fader found himself being drawn into civil law. A summer with McManus sealed his fate.

"The way he practiced law just changed me around," Fader recalled. "The excitement of representing clients, the importance of working hard and making sure no leaf is left unturned, the challenge of keeping up with business that changes before you can blink an eye."

McManus remembered that Fader "ate [his job] up like a sponge does water."

The judge still has that excitement, gushing about his civil cases, and the Business and Technology Court - a new way for complicated technical cases to go through the judicial process.

"All these things are so exciting," he said recently. "I love civil law. The litigation is all stuff I don't know anything about. It's wonderful. ... The excitement of uncertainty is the reason to be a trial lawyer or trial judge."

It was that enthusiasm that made other lawyers recommend him for the District Court bench in 1977 and helped persuade Gov. Harry R. Hughes to appoint him to the Circuit Court in 1982.

He had fallen in love with law but was indebted to pharmacy, which led him to Kathryn Klevenow, a pharmacy student from Idaho who would become the woman right about everything, 100 percent of the time.

It was the summer of 1969, and Fader was helping a friend by filling in at the St. Joseph's Hospital pharmacy, where Klevenow had a summer job. Their first date was Aug. 15. That November, she agreed to marry him. On Aug. 15, 1970, they exchanged vows.

At the couple's home in Towson, the same house they have lived in for 32 years, the judge cannot resist placing the occasional peck on his wife's cheek or teasing her in the same laughing, loving way he jokes in court. She teases him right back.

The Faders raised two children in that house and their two rambunctious boxers, Spielen and Morgen.

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