Joseph A. Ciotola Sr.

The Longtime Administrative Judge Of Baltimore's District Court Was Known For Fairness And Efficiency

April 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Joseph A. Ciotola Sr., former longtime administrative judge of Baltimore's District Court and a decorated World War II veteran, died Saturday of heart failure at his Catonsville home. He was 88.

Judge Ciotola's career spanned 15 years - from 1976 when he was appointed by Gov. Marvin Mandel to the District Court - until he was forced to step down in 1991 because he had passed the mandatory retirement age of 70.

"I got to know Judge Ciotola in my first job out of law school as a prosecutor, and I tried many a case in front of him," Gov. Martin O'Malley recalled yesterday.

"He took great pride in his work and made sure that all of those who had business before the District Court were treated with respect and that the administration of justice was fair and impartial," said Governor O'Malley. "While he was a fair and kind man, he wasn't a pushover."

He recalled how Judge Ciotola was a "father figure" to all who toiled away in the Wabash Avenue District Court building.

"It was like everyone there was part of his big family. He was kind to new lawyers, and after a case would pull us aside and give us a lesson in how we could have handled a witness differently," he said. "He was a prince of a man."

Mr. Mandel was another longtime friend and admirer.

"To the best of my recollection, Judge Ciotola was my last judicial appointment to the bench," Mr. Mandel said. "He had been a very capable attorney and handled his judgeship perfectly. He really was very well liked, and people thought the world of him."

Judge Ciotola developed a reputation during his years on the bench for efficiency and swift justice that helped unclog court dockets.

Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland praised Judge Ciotola's years on the bench.

"He was a close friend and confidant, and remained a dedicated jurist to the very end of his life. Being a judge was what he loved to do, and he was anxious to help people out," Judge Clyburn said. "His decisions were always tempered with mercy and kindness."

Judge Ciotola, the son of a B&O Railroad track foreman at the railroad's Mount Clare Shops, was born in Baltimore and raised on South Carey Street. He was a 1937 graduate of City College and earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

He served in the Army Air Forces during World War II as chief maintenance engineer with the 100th Bombardier Group assigned to the 8th Air Force in England.

Associates recalled Judge Ciotola as being an "extremely humble man" who seldom talked of his World War II exploits.

When two badly damaged B-17 bombers returned to base from a bombing run, Judge Ciotola and his men went to work repairing one of the planes, which was scheduled to fly a reconnaissance mission the next day.

"They worked all night making one plane from two, and it was ready to fly the next morning," said his son, Dr. Joseph A. Ciotola Jr. of Grasonville, an orthopedic surgeon.

Judge Ciotola, who was awarded the Bronze Star, was discharged with the rank of master sergeant at the end of the war.

After passing the Maryland Bar in 1947, Judge Ciotola established a private law practice with Jack Rose and also taught at the Mount Vernon Law School.

At the time he was named to the city District Court, Judge Ciotola was president of the Baltimore Board of Election Supervisors.

He was also a law partner with John J. Neubauer Jr. in Baltimore, owned and operated a surveying company, and was president and secretary of Title Insurance Co. of Baltimore.

He served on the city Housing Court and after the death of Administrative Judge Edward F. Borgerding was appointed his successor in 1982.

Judge Ciotola was responsible for the court's 23 judges, 200 staffers and a "caseload of civil, criminal and traffic cases that generates more than 200,000 trials a year," reported The Sun at his retirement.

"He was a tireless worker and would come to the courthouse between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. every day. Even though court didn't start till 9 a.m., he wanted to make sure that everything was all right," said Baltimore District Judge Barbara Baer Waxman.

Governor O'Malley recalled that "rain, sleet, heat nor snow" would keep him away from his courthouse.

"Because he always opened the courthouse at 5 a.m., we thought he had the only set of keys to the doors," said Governor O'Malley, laughing.

Judge Ciotola's routine was to visit each judge's chambers before court for a brief chat.

"He wanted to know if we needed anything, and as he walked out would say, 'Go do justice,' " Judge Waxman said.

When Judge Waxman was chief of the District Court prosecutors, she recalled receiving an early-morning phone call in 1990 from Judge Ciotola informing her that court was closed for the day because of a heavy snowstorm.

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