Judge Manck not ready to ride into sunset -- yet

He's retiring from `the best job,' but will still sit on the bench between motorcycle trips

Judge Manck is retiring, not ready to call it quits

May 09, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

For Joseph P. Manck, the clock has run out - that's the desk clock he's watched count down two years toward retirement from the job of his dreams.

"This is the best job," the Anne Arundel County judge says. "I said, `Let someone else have as much fun.'"

After nearly 18 years in black robes - first as a District Court judge and then on the Circuit Court, where he is administrative judge - Manck is stepping down just after turning 60 and becoming eligible to retire. Technically, the job is his through July 1, but on May 23, the family photos and the model of a motorcycle will be gone.

Those who work with him regularly in Annapolis, even his critics, say he will be missed for his gracious treatment of all who step into his courtroom, for his even temperament and, as administrative judge, for maintaining control of the housekeeping.

Friends say he is a quick wit, an all-around nice guy - lawyer Ron Jarashow has long since forgiven Manck for teaching his young son all the wrong names for body parts while baby-sitting.

In court, Manck has frequently handed down criminal sentences beginning with these words: "I hate to warehouse people ... "

Defendants and their lawyers say he is eminently fair and is right to make prosecutors prove their case.

"He believes the state has the burden [of proof] and he holds them to that burden," says lawyer Sam Serio, who studied with Manck in law school.

Former public defender Keith Gross, now in private practice, says Manck is highly thought of in the black community because he looks beyond a crime or a civil dispute to the larger situation and prompts people to work toward resolving their broader problems.

"He gets it. He can see people for what they are worth," Gross said. "They figure they are going before a person who is going to listen to their story and the judgment is going to be a fair one."

The flip side of that is prosecutors' grumbling that Manck cuts criminal defendants too much slack.

"He's much too lenient for a guy who hears most of the criminal cases," says the elected state's attorney, Frank R. Weathersbee. "Putting people in jail, or not, was the major shortcoming."

A recent case, in which Manck sentenced a Severna Park man convicted of molesting his daughter and another adolescent relative to serve four months in jail followed by eight months of house arrest, "is emblematic of that," Weathersbee said.

The sentence brought the wrath of Fox TV host Bill O'Reilly. The show sent a reporter to Manck's house; Manck wouldn't discuss the case because it was not over.

The criticism doesn't get to him, he says, and he is trying to do the right thing for individuals who come before him. If people need drug treatment, as many do, the court should nudge them in that direction instead of jailing them for long periods, he says.

"They go in, and they will come out the same person if we don't do something," Manck says. "If I can help somebody, I'm going to take a shot at that."

At the same time, says lawyer John Robinson III, Manck is tough on violent offenders.

In February, he sentenced a man to serve 10 years in prison for forcing his way into an Odenton home and threatening the young mother inside.

Lawyers say Manck knows what it's like to suffer a loss because of crime.

In 1995, Manck's mother, Beatrice, was slain by an intruder who ransacked her Baltimore home then sold her jewelry for drugs.

Neither Manck nor attorneys say his mother's death has affected his handling of criminal suspects.

"You'd have thought: Here's a guy who would have come back on the bench with a vengeance, but not Joe Manck," says longtime lawyer T. Joseph Touhey. "That's a sign of real maturity, of being in control of your emotions and getting back and doing your job."

"I can compartmentalize it, my private life and what I do [as a judge]," Manck says.

Touhey says Manck has a way of discussing civil cases with warring lawyers so that all sides calm down and work toward an out-of-court settlement,

He has not, says lawyer Peter S. O'Neill, forgotten what it's like to be a lawyer, trying to earn a buck.

Nor has he forgotten what it's like to be starting out as a judge on the Circuit Court, where his first tough case was a medical malpractice dispute.

"I was brand-spanking new. I think I got off the bench a dozen times and called [Judge Ronald] Silkworth and said, `How am I supposed to rule on this?'" he recalls.

But since then, he's presided over more trials than he can count: the 1999 jury acquittal of former state Sen. Larry Young on corruption charges, his 2004 decision to allow electronic voting without a paper trail, the racially charged 2005 trial against one of several white youths accused of killing a black teenager, Noah Jamahl Jones.

Manck came to Annapolis as an adolescent, when his parents left Baltimore. They bought and operated a shoe store, Stadiger's, on Main Street.

He graduated - barely squeaked by, he says - from Gettysburg College with a degree in political science.

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