The (not terribly) Wild Ones

Arundel judges trade black robes for jackets as they rev engines and head out on the highway

May 07, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

The black robes of several Anne Arundel County judges mask a longing for black leather jackets and the open road.

The realization several years ago among judges at the Annapolis courthouse that they shared the hobby led to the formation of a tongue-in-cheek motorcycle gang.

Dubbed the Circuit Riders for the four Circuit Court judges and one court master who founded it, the name also is a nod to the days when circuit judges rode horses to hold court in rural towns, said Judge Paul A. Hackner, one of the group's founders.

Defendants are often caught by surprise when they find out that their honors ride Harley-Davidsons.

"People are amused by it, that people who are in a portion of the establishment would be doing this," Hackner said.

The Circuit Riders have expanded to include clerks, attorneys and anyone else who wants to ride.

County Councilmen Daryl Jones and Edward Middlebrooks were among the 22 people who showed up for the Riders' first large group ride Saturday. They cruised more than 84 miles from the park-and-ride lot at Riva Road and Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Thurmont.

There was one mishap: Judge Michael E. Loney broke his wrist when he wiped out on a curve about a half-hour into the ride. The wheel of his bike struck a groove in the road on westbound Route 32, just past the exit for Route 97, Loney said. Instead of turning, the Harley-Davidson Dyna went straight onto the shoulder. It fell over as Loney tried to slow it down and the wheels slipped on the grass.

Loney was taken by ambulance to Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. Doctors will insert a steel plate in his wrist Friday. After his four- to six-week recovery, he said, he would reconsider whether to get back on his bike. It was his first accident in six years of riding.

"When things happen, they happen quickly," said Loney, 68. "It does point out that there is a potential of risk."

It is that level of danger that gives riders their mystique. Bike riders often are associated with rebellion and defiance of authority - which makes the diversion seem all the more incongruous with the law-and-order judges.

It was Loney's desire to better understand the motorcycle accident cases in his courtroom that led him to get his biker's license. Loney said motorcycle riders are more vulnerable, so they have to be on guard for potential hazards. They don't have the luxury that car drivers have of chatting on their cell phones or flipping between radio stations. The concentration on the road forces out all other thoughts, he said.

Well, that and the roar of the motorcycle engine.

Usually, Loney said, "I come back wonderfully refreshed."

Paul Blumenthal, a personal-injury attorney who rode with the Circuit Riders on Saturday, said people would be surprised to see the number of white-collar professionals who ride motorcycles. He said he regularly rides with dentists and doctors.

"You go to a biker club, and you see the guys who put the napkins in their laps and the guys with grease over their faces," said Blumenthal, 58.

Blumenthal said the pastime helps him in his line of work. He started a hot line for people who are injured in motorcycle accidents.

Although the Circuit Riders have a group identity, it's hardly that of a bad-boy motorcycle gang.

Hackner, 59, who rode in college and law school, started again five years ago. He got his sister, a graphic designer, to sketch an emblem - a blue-rimmed patch of a bald eagle clutching a gavel with its claws. Loney ordered about 50 patches.

The other founding Circuit Riders are retired Judge Joseph P. Manck, 61; former Judge David S. Bruce, 60; and Circuit Master Charles J. Muskin, 59.

Bruce, who lost his seat in the 2004 election and is now a master, has been an occasional motorcyclist for years.

Though Saturday was the Circuit Riders' first large outing, members often ride together in small groups. Hackner e-mailed an invitation to members of the Anne Arundel County Bar Association to ride with the group to Thurmont, where they would lunch together and then ride a loop through the Catoctin Mountains, home of Camp David. But they had to cut their trip short because of Loney's accident, so the Circuit Riders headed home after lunch.

Joe Sheya, a 59-year-old teacher at Severna Park High School, tagged along with attorney Marty Snider. Like Loney, Sheya finds his peace on the back of his 1993 Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide Sport.

"Every meditation discipline teaches you to be present," Sheya said. "When you're riding a bike, you're present, or you're dead."

Sheya and Snider rode their bikes to California together in 1993. Occasionally, the two take shorter trips, but Snider prefers to ride alone, often to his place in Maine.

Snider, 65, said he enjoys riding because it makes him feel young.

"It gives you a sense that you're not your father," said Snider, who is general counsel to the board of trustees at Anne Arundel Community College. "It's cool when you're riding down the road."

Sun reporter Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

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