Robert E. Cahill Sr.

Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ran a no-nonsense courtroom and demanded honesty from attorneys

December 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen |

Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr., a retired Baltimore County Circuit Court judge who had been a highly regarded trial lawyer, died yesterday of gallbladder cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care.

The longtime Riderwood resident, who had lived in Mays Chapel for the past five years, was 77.

Judge Cahill, the son of a bar owner and a homemaker, was born in St. Louis and raised on Lake Avenue. After graduating from Loyola High School in 1949, he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1953 from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

He earned his law degree in 1956 from Georgetown University Law School, where his older brother, William W. Cahill Jr., had earned his law degree.

"They both followed parallel paths to the top of the legal profession in the Baltimore metropolitan area at the insistence of their father, who did not graduate from grammar school but worked all his life in the tavern business," said a son, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr., who was appointed to the Circuit Court in 2005.

"My grandfather didn't have much of an opportunity for education, but he made sure his boys got into and out of the toughest, most regimented and highly regarded schools in the land. It's a phenomenal American story," he said.

From 1959 to 1961, Judge Cahill served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, and then as a senior trial attorney in the tax division of the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

In 1963, Judge Cahill returned to Baltimore and joined the firm of Melnicove, Kaufman, Weiner and Smouse, where he maintained a private practice until 1990, when he joined the Towson firm of Nolan, Plumhoff & Williams, with his son, Robert E. Cahill Jr.

While in private practice, his legal expertise was centered on the defense of complex civil and white-collar criminal matters, with a special emphasis on the defense of attorneys accused of ethics violations.

In 1990, Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Judge Cahill to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, where he served for 12 years until his mandatory retirement in 2002.

"I first met him in 1973 when I was an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore City," said Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. of the Maryland Court of Appeals. "He was defending a person I was prosecuting. When I went into private practice in 1976, my first case was a referral from Bob Cahill."

Judge Murphy went on to say, "He always gave 100 percent and expected everyone else to do the same. He was an excellent judge and no one ever worked harder. There were no unimportant cases or unimportant people in his courtroom."

Judge Cahill had a reputation for conducting his court in a no-nonsense way.

"He felt very strongly that if a lawyer was taking money from a client that the client have the best representation possible and that they did the best job possible for the client," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John F. Fader II, who was also a longtime friend and colleague. "And if they were not up to it, then they shouldn't be representing that client."

He added: "Judge Cahill was intelligent, honest and ethical to an absolute fault and he had a huge dislike for injustice. These were the hallmarks of his career."

His son recalled that "lawyers who did not give clients 100 percent were going to hear from him."

"Generally, he was funny, kind, and charming in court and out - a real Irish rascal with a lightning-quick brain and wit - but if he thought an attorney was not representing a client with zeal, or worse yet, if he thought an attorney was not being candid, you would see a decidedly different side of him, and it was hardly pleasant," said his son..

Judge John Grayson Turnbull Jr., the administrative judge for Baltimore County Circuit Court, described Judge Cahill as "extremely intelligent and well-versed in the law. He was always two steps ahead of the attorneys who were trying cases."

"No, he was four steps ahead of those attorneys," said Judge Fader. "He could smell out what the other party was going to say 15 minutes before they said it. His intelligence and intuition were simply uncanny."

Former Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Albert Figinski said his old friend had the same scrappy determined nature of former Oriole manager Earl Weaver.

"This was a guy who was born to be a trial lawyer. He was devoted to his clients and fearless in his representation," Mr. Figinski said. "I spoke at his investiture and said, 'Today is a day like no other day - Earl Weaver becomes an umpire,' and everyone laughed."

H. Russell Smouse, now Orioles general counsel, had practiced years earlier with Judge Cahill.

"Bob Cahill was one the most gifted lawyers I have ever known. He brought great intelligence, real insight, and a true commitment to the law and its proper application when he came to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, where he served with distinction," wrote Mr. Smouse in an e-mail.

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