Outspoken pair retire as court masters

October 17, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

On his last day as a Howard County Circuit Court master in chancery, Bernard A. Raum admonished the state Department of Juvenile Services, saying his frustration with the department contributed to his desire to leave the bench.

Master Nancy L. Haslinger, in one of her final days, told a divorcing couple with three children: "Neither of you have the luxury of acting like a fool or a jackass."

Together, Raum and Haslinger - known for their frankness while handling thousands of juvenile and custody cases - have a combined 33 years of service as masters in Howard and have retired just over two weeks apart, leaving the court with only one master.

Raum retired Sept. 30, and Haslinger's last day was Friday.

The two masters were the only ones who heard a range of cases involving juvenile crime, custody issues and children in need of assistance. Elaine Patrick, the third master, hears only state-involved child support and paternity cases.

Judge Diane O. Leasure, the county's administrative circuit judge, said the court plans to fill the vacancies by Dec. 1. Forty-four people have applied for the two positions, and a review committee has interviewed all candidates and made recommendations to the bench.

Filling in

In the meantime, retired Washington County Judge Daniel Moylan will be hearing juvenile cases, and Howard Circuit Court judges will help handle some cases of children in need of assistance.

"Obviously, we appreciate [Haslinger and Raum's] years of experience and dedication that they brought to the job," Leasure said. "But we are able to handle their dockets during the interim until the two new masters are hired and in place."

Raum, 60, said he felt it was the right time to retire after being a master for 23 years. He said his decision came in part from dissatisfaction with the state Department of Juvenile Services.

Recently, Raum accused the department of shirking its responsibility by allowing a youth to be dropped from a substance-abuse program because, he claimed, an insurance company would not pay for further treatment after three weeks.

"I think the department's resources are stretched much too thin," he said. "And I don't think that there's effective management of these serious offenders."

Raum, who used to work as a prosecutor, said he will teach a forensic-evidence course at the University of Baltimore Law School in the spring and may also teach in George Washington University's forensic science department.

He has been poring over about 50 textbooks about forensic science, "So I can rebut all these CSI comparisons," he said of the popular television crime drama. "You know, it's a story, they've got to make it look good. But for the most part forensic evidence is really tedious work."

Joke teller

Raum is known for his sense of humor - he sometimes attaches to files a "May cause drowsiness" sticker that he gets from his wife, a pharmacist.

"It never fails that if you go in his chambers, you're bound to get his most recent joke," said Jolie Weinberg, an attorney who is chair of the Howard County Bar's Family Law Committee.

When Haslinger, 57, was hired as a master in 1994, she was the first woman to hold a judicial position in Howard Circuit Court.

No longer the only woman in such a position, she said women have brought a wider perspective to the bench. And coincidentally, she said, "There's been a greater recognition of the issues of domestic violence and so forth, so that all the way around, I think that female litigants are perhaps getting a more objective hearing on their cases."

A former lawyer, psychiatric social worker and legislative aide, Haslinger plans to spend more time with her husband and 1-year-old granddaughter.

`Take it easy'

"At this point, I'm not looking for any other jobs or planning to work," she said. "For the moment, I'm just planning to take it easy."

Haslinger said that as she presided over custody cases, she attempted to be "very straightforward and very frank," while trying to impress upon parents the seriousness of their situation and their responsibility to their children.

"It's always distressing when I see parents getting too wrapped up in their own issues and forgetting they have children who depend on them," she said.

Weinberg said lawyers will miss the familiarity they had with Raum and Haslinger, but said, "The bar in general is looking forward to some new faces and some new blood coming in. It's going to be exciting to have some changes come about."

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