John J. "Jack" Bishop Jr., judge and legislator, dies

Former state senator was known as one of the Court of Special Appeals' most diligent members

  • Judge John J. Bishop Jr.
Judge John J. Bishop Jr.
June 09, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Judge John J. Bishop Jr., former member of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals who earlier had served in the state Senate for 14 years, died Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in the Loch Hill section of Baltimore County.

Judge Bishop was 83.

"He was an extremely honest individual, and there was never anything phony about Jack Bishop. He was very conscientious, so it was easy for me to appoint him in 1981 to the Court of Special Appeals," said former Gov. Harry R. Hughes. "I knew he'd do a good job."

Former state Sen. Julian "Jack" Lapides had served with Judge Bishop in the legislature.

"Jack was a magnificent legislator and a great judge who had compassion and intellect. He had a genuine concern for the public welfare," said Mr. Lapides.

"He served at a time in Annapolis when there was relatively little distinction between Republicans and Democrats, and he was respected by everyone," said Mr. Lapides. "His death is a great loss for Maryland."

The son of a Baltimore & Ohio railroader and a homemaker, Judge Bishop was born in Baltimore and raised in the 10th Ward, the lower Greenmount Avenue neighborhood.

After graduating from Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington in 1947, he worked as a B&O clerk at Camden.

He was an office boy at Fidelity & Deposit Co. from 1947 to 1948, when he became an insurance adjuster for the National Mutual Insurance Co.

He earned his law degree in 1951 from the University of Baltimore and continued working as an insurance adjuster until being admitted to the bar in 1954.

From 1954 to 1955, Judge Bishop maintained a law office in the 300 block of E. North Ave., then moved to Towson and opened a general law practice in an office on West Chesapeake Avenue.

Active in Republican politics, Judge Bishop's Annapolis career began in 1966, when he was elected from the old 4th District of Baltimore County. By 1974, he had earned the sobriquet in political circles as "Landslide Jack" because he won two Senate elections by a combined margin of about 800 votes out of a total of more than 60,000, reported The Baltimore Sun.

An article in The Evening Sun in 1978 described Judge Bishop as "a watchdog and man of conscience in the state Senate."

He served on the Economics Affairs Committee and in 1971 moved to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. In addition to watching consumer legislation, he gained a reputation for fighting for the rights of the mentally challenged.

Judge Bishop credited a 1967 visit to Rosewood State Hospital in Owings Mills with a group of other senators as one of the seminal moments of his life.

"There were cages on a platform with women in them. Half the legislators got sick," he told The Evening Sun. "I decided from then on to do things for people least able to do things for themselves."

"Jack was one of those now-extinct species known as a moderate Republican, who represented northern and central Baltimore County," Barry Rascovar, former deputy editorial page editor for The Baltimore Sun, who is now a communications consultant and political commentator for WYPR-FM in Baltimore, wrote in an email.

"He and Jervis Finney led the charge for ethics reforms before and after the [Gov. Marvin] Mandel scandal, and were two of the few folks in the legislature to oppose Mandel's racetrack deals in the early 1970s that landed him in prison," he wrote.

"Bishop also was one of the legislators offered a bribe to gain his vote following [Gov. Spiro T.] Agnew's resignation as governor, earning Jack and his family round-the-clock police protection," Mr. Rascovar wrote.

"He was always a good campaigner, even though we were in different districts. Down in Annapolis, Jack really stood tall for things and issues that he felt were important to his constituents and the state of Maryland," said Mr. Finney, former chief counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and current counsel to Ober Kaler Grimes & Shriver.

When Judge Bishop was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's intermediate appellate court, he told The Baltimore Sun, "I think that's where the real law is being made in the state. The court sets broad legal policies."

He added: "I feel challenged by it. I like to be busy, and I enjoy that kind of activity."

"Judge Bishop was a close friend of long standing. We were in Towson together, politics, and in court," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II.

"Jack was a scholar, a consummate gentleman and always had a wonderful sense of humor. He was instinctive and acute; I can't say enough about him," said Judge Fader. "As a politician, there was no one more honest. As a lawyer, no one [was] more honest, and he made a great appellate court judge."

Court of Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. is another longtime friend and colleague.

"He was such a pleasant person to work with and was a real legal scholar. He was a very fine man who brought to his work the experience of being in private practice and in the state legislature," recalled Judge Murphy.

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