Leonard S. Jacobson, a retired Baltimore County Circuit Court judge and former state delegate who collected political memorabilia, died of esophageal cancer Thursday at his Pikesville home. He was 78.
Judge Jacobson was born in Baltimore and raised on Harford Road in Lauraville, where his Russian immigrant parents owned a grocery store.
After graduating from City College in 1945, he served in the merchant marine aboard the SS Mariposa, transporting troops back to the U.S. after World War II.
He worked for a truck-rental firm while attending night classes at the University of Baltimore, where he graduated third in his class and earned both his bachelor's and law degrees in 1957.
He maintained a law practice in Baltimore and later in Towson, and was elected in 1966 to the House of Delegates. He served one term, then made an unsuccessful run for state Senate in the 1970 Democratic primary.
He was appointed county solicitor in 1979 by Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson, serving until he was named to the bench in 1983 by Gov. Harry R. Hughes.
Known for favoring tailored suits and sporting a rose in his lapel, Judge Jacobson exuded a gregarious nature.
"This man was one of my dearest friends in life and I've never known another human being who enjoyed life, people and family more than Lenny. He was the most courteous human being in the world," retired Circuit Judge John F. Fader II said yesterday.
"He was a calm, temperate and thoughtful individual who was always prepared," Judge Fader said. "He was a wonderful gentleman and I never saw him riled in public. Attorneys weren't afraid of him. They were completely at ease in front of him and he'd let them have their day in court."
"He was an individual who could try any type of case and when the parties left his courtroom, they were satisfied," said Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II.
In 1994, Judge Jacobson, just shy of his 67th birthday, stunned judicial colleagues when he announced his retirement, three years before the mandatory age of 70. He became a special master in the Family Law Settlement Court, a job he held until 1999, helping parties involved in divorce or custody proceedings reach a settlement before going to trial.
Judge Jacobson's approach was "convincing people that if the marriage is over, that they ought to plan what their future ought to be and the future of their children ... rather than have a stranger who wears a black robe do it for them. It sets the stage for talking in a sane way," he told The Sun in 1994.
"He was a man who never suffered from black robe syndrome. He never had that. He was loved and respected by those in his profession," said his former longtime secretary, Ellen Hillis.
"He also started a program that still continues that brings Baltimore County high school students into to court to watch criminal cases. The idea was to show them what happens if you do drugs or steal," she said.
From 1999 until his death, Judge Jacobson practiced arbitration, mediation and alternative dispute resolution in a Towson office.
Judge Jacobson had a love of theater that dated to his own days on the stage - performing in shows at what was then Hamilton Junior High School. So it was natural for him to write, direct, produce and act in benefit shows staged by the Baltimore County Bar Association.
Some of his memorable shows included Best Little Courthouse, Hillen Street Blues and T'sorus Line, a title that incorporates the Yiddish word meaning "trouble."
He was an inveterate writer of letters to the editor of The Sun, particularly on his opposition to Circuit Court judges having to run for election a year after appointment to the bench. He also wrote about noisy restaurants, and Ohio Democratic Sen. John H. Glenn Jr.'s return to space in 1998.
He wrote that "difficulty hearing in noisy restaurants may be the most common complaint," and for those who criticized the astronaut-turned-senator's space mission, he commented, "On behalf of millions of senior citizens, we lift our dose of Maalox and say, `Godspeed, John Glenn.'"
At his 1994 retirement from the bench, Judge Jacobson directed that the proceeds from his farewell dinner given by the Baltimore County Bar Association be donated to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.
In addition to fishing from his 20-foot boat Moby Jake, Judge Jacobson assembled a collection of 4,000 pieces of campaign memorabilia that dated to the presidency of James A. Garfield.
He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and a former member of its brotherhood.
Surviving are his wife of 57 years, the former Marilyn Harris, a homemaker; three sons, Lee R. Jacobson of Owings Mills, David S. Jacobson of Reisterstown and Louis R. Jacobson of Sparta, N.J.; a sister, Evelyn Wagner of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.