Joseph H. Baum

The Civilian Chief Judge Led The U.s. Coast Guard Court Of Criminal Appeals For Two Decades

April 30, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Joseph H. Baum, former civilian chief judge who led the U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals for more than two decades, died Saturday of heart failure at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 78 and an Arnold resident.

Judge Baum, the son of an electrician and a social worker, was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn.

After graduating from Central High School in Memphis, he earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1952.

He attended the University of Chicago Law School and earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1955.

In 1955, Judge Baum began his 29-year Navy career during which time he served as both prosecutor and defense counsel as well as staff judge advocate for general courts-martial authorities.

He served as chief of the Navy's Military Justice Division and, before retiring in 1984, was a judge for six years on the Navy's Court of Military Review, the forerunner of the current Court of Appeals.

During his Navy career, Judge Baum served as counsel for several investigations involving loss of life and property: the sinking of the USS Almogordo shortly after its commissioning; fires aboard carrriers USS Oriskany and Forrestal; and the shooting down of a Lockheed EC-121 Waring Star by a North Korean MIG-21in 1969.

"His last service as defense counsel involved the highly publicized court-martial and acquittal of the USS Belknap's commanding officer for hazarding a vessel, following a collision with the carrier USS John F. Kennedy off Sicily in 1975," said his son, Daniel B. Baum of Arnold.

"This case made it clear that, despite common belief to the contrary among many in and out of the Navy, criminal liability of a commanding officer for ship incidents results only upon proof of culpable negligence, not from the position alone of the commanding officer," he said.

After retiring from the Navy in 1984 with the rank of captain, Judge Baum began a 22-year career as the civilian chief judge of the U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, during which time he participated in more than 250 published Coast Guard cases and wrote the majority opinion in 65 percent of them, many of which led to significant changes and clarifications in the law.

"The most notable example was Solorio v. United States, the first military case to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on direct review," the son said.

"His opinion developed the groundwork for a landmark decision that re-established the rule that court-martial jurisdiction is based on the military status of the accused, not on the service connection of the offense," he said.

Retired Coast Guard Capt. Gilbert E. Teal, who is now an attorney in the Navy's Office of the General Counsel, is an old friend.

"Judge Baum was very methodical, extremely careful and protective of the rights of the accused. He always wanted the process to be fair. He always wanted you to look at every side of an issue. This was his overarching goal, and the court was better for it," Captain Teal said.

"He was also a gracious gentleman - a real Southern gentleman - who was both polite and gracious," he said. "He was very solicitous and never imposed his views on people."

Judge Baum was an avid theatergoer and enjoyed spending time with his family.

His wife of 22 years, the former Hope Malcolm, died in 1985.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Temple Beth Shalom, 1461 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., in Arnold.

Also surviving are a stepson, Eric C. Helfers of Glenn Dale; two stepdaughters, Patricia H. Buckley and Mary Elizabeth Gantt, both of Atlanta; a sister, Maxine Greenberg of South Windsor, Conn.; and two grandchildren.

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