Towson attorney begins tenure as judge

  • John J. Nagle III, a past president of the Baltimore County Bar Association who also served on the board of governors of the Maryland Bar Association, was being installed Tuesday as a county circuit judge.
John J. Nagle III, a past president of the Baltimore County Bar… (Baltimore Sun photo by Nick…)
January 06, 2010|By Nick Madigan | nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Surrounded by dozens of judges, fellow lawyers, relatives and admirers in a packed courtroom in Towson, John J. Nagle III was sworn in Tuesday as a Baltimore County Circuit judge.

"Above all, I will be fair and just," promised Nagle, whose appointment forced him to end his longtime partnership in a Towson law firm and who several times has been voted one of Maryland's top attorneys by his peers. As he concluded his remarks, Nagle received a standing ovation.

Even with three decades of experience litigating all manner of cases and rising to the upper reaches of his profession, Nagle admitted to a mild case of nerves with the approach of his ascension to the bench, and seemed relieved when the long ceremony drew to a close.

"It's daunting to the extent that I can appreciate the seriousness of the matters that will come before me," Nagle, 55, said in an interview last month. "Nobody wants to be in court, and I know that when they're in court their liberty is at stake."

Nagle, a past president of the Baltimore County Bar Association who also served on the board of governors of the Maryland Bar Association, said he was conscious of the "responsibility and trust" placed in him by Gov. Martin O'Malley. "I take it very seriously," he said, adding that he would have to adapt to "looking at things the way a judge does versus looking at things a trial lawyer does."

O'Malley announced Nagle's appointment on Dec. 2 along with that of prosecutor S. Ann Brobst, who was sworn in two weeks later. In a letter read aloud at Nagle's investiture, O'Malley described him as "patient and well-grounded" and "smart, hard-working and prepared."

Another former prosecutor, Sherrie R. Bailey, was sworn to the same bench on May 26, 2009. A fourth vacancy remains to be filled. All the new associate judges will have to run for a 15-year term in this fall's elections.

As of Tuesday, Nagle ceased being president of Bodie, Nagle, Dolina, Smith & Hobbs -- usually referred to simply as Bodie, Nagle -- although his name remained on the firm's building on West Susquehanna Avenue. While there, he specialized in mass tort litigation and practiced in business and commercial law, trusts and estates, and bankruptcy law. He litigated product-liability and damage cases involving asbestos, lead paint and plumbing and construction defects.

"I liked being in a courtroom, and I liked working the cases up," he said. "It's a good background for what I'm about to do."

Nagle predicted that it would be hard to part ways with his firm after 28 years.

"It's bittersweet in a lot of ways," he said. "It's really going to be difficult to leave something that I've helped grow and people I've enjoyed working with and cases I've handled. And it's sweet in the sense that it's a new job and a whole new life."

Asked whether he was prepared to be stern with opposing attorneys who become belligerent during trials, Nagle said he expected all lawyers who appear before him to be civil.

"I understand completely how in the heat of battle people sometimes can get upset or maybe a little more outspoken than they should be, and I'm prepared to handle that," he said. "Experienced attorneys, and even newer attorneys, I think, they understand that when you're in front of a judge, you don't want to be flip, you don't want to be glib, and you want to take care of the matter that's at hand."

While he would not describe himself as authoritarian, Nagle said that, "basically, I mean business." He said he has "a very even temperament" and a "good amount of respect" in the legal community.

"He is a great guy," said Deborah C. Dopkin, an attorney in Towson who served with Nagle on the Character Committee of the State Board of Law Examiners, a panel on which he spent 14 years. "In the years I have been on the committee with John, he has demonstrated all the qualities and temperament you want in a judge. He is fair, slow to anger, a gentleman, polite at all times to everybody, and compassionate when it is appropriate."

Dopkin said the way Nagle has discharged his duties on the Character Committee, which considers the personal credentials of applicants to the bar, "is exactly the way you would want a judge to conduct himself with litigants and counsel."

Nagle grew up in Towson's Wiltondale neighborhood and attended high school at Loyola Blakefield. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bagli, grew up in nearby Stoneleigh. Their three children helped Nagle place around his shoulders his first black judicial robe.

His mother, Eleanor, who was born in Wales, is 81 and attended Tuesday's investiture, as did his father-in-law, the retired sportscaster Vince Bagli. The new judge's father, John J. Nagle II, passed away last year. Nagle has two sisters and two brothers, all but one residents of the Baltimore area.

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