Walter E. Black Jr., chief judge of U.S. District Court for Md.

Judge had ruled against Baltimore when it tried to acquire Colts by condemnation after move to Indianapolis; he had headed the city zoning board

  • Judge Walter E. Black
Judge Walter E. Black (George Cook 1981, BALTIMORE…)
October 01, 2014|By Jacques Kelly | The Baltimore Sun

Walter Evan Black Jr., a retired chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Maryland who ruled against the city of Baltimore in its efforts to acquire the Colts after the team moved to Indianapolis, died of complications from Parkinson's disease Monday at his Easton home. The former Roland Park-area resident was 88.

During a lengthy career, he ruled against Baltimore in 1985 when it attempted to acquire the Colts football franchise by condemnation. In his ruling, he said the city did not have the power to take the franchise because the team had moved on the night of March 29, 1984, before the day the city had filed its suit.

He formerly headed the city's zoning board. As a young attorney, he was a close political ally of Theodore R. McKeldin Jr.. who served as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor.

"He was one of the most objective, decent and intelligent persons I have ever met," said Kirby Fowler, who served as his law clerk and is now president of the Downtown Partnership. "He was fair to everyone who came before him. Personally, he was a mentor to me and passed on his love of Baltimore. He radiated an aura of warmth and humor."

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Walter E. Black, a Standard Oil Co. executive, and the former Margaret Lee Rice, a homemaker. Judge Black lived in Pittsburgh and Ardmore, Pa., when his father held posts there and was a 1943 graduate of Haverford Township Senior High in suburban Philadelphia. He earned a degree in history from Harvard College and was a 1949 graduate of Harvard Law School.

He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1949 and joined Hinkley and Singley, a downtown Baltimore law firm, where he practiced from 1949 to 1953. He was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland from 1953 to 1955.

In April 1956, Judge Roszel C. Thomsen called him, saying there was an unanticipated vacancy at the Maryland U.S. attorney's office. He gave Mr. Black an hour to decide whether to become interim U.S. attorney for Maryland. Judge Black, then 29, accepted the position and became the youngest U.S. attorney serving at that time. He held the post for nearly 10 months until a successor was named.

Judge Black then returned to Hinkley and Singley and worked in probate and trusts, corporate law, taxes, criminal defense and zoning. During this time, he handled cases relating to a 1960s savings-and-loan crisis. His firm became Clapp, Somerville, Black and Honemann in 1968.

"He was smart and had an even temperament. He was a gentleman through and through. He was highly respected in the profession. He was an early champion of civil rights, too," said Frederick Singley Koontz, an attorney who is also a cousin. "He always wore a bow tie, and the day he retired, all the male judges wore bow ties. He was a beloved legal figure."

He practiced law at Clapp, Somerville, Black and Honemann until 1982. President Ronald Reagan named him to the U.S. District Court for Maryland after Sen. Charles McC. "Mac" Mathias Jr. nominated him to the post. He served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Maryland from 1991 to 1994.

"He was an absolutely decent human being," said U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz. "It's a sad day for us and the court."

Judge Black retired in 2002.

He served on the Mayor's Task Force on Civil Rights from 1965 to 1967 and on the Baltimore City Jail Board from 1971 to 1973. He was on the Maryland Attorney Grievance Committee from 1978 to 1982 and the Governor's Commission to Revise the Annotated Code from 1975 to 1982.

He was a past director of Parkwood Cemetery, Eudowood Sanitarium, Union Memorial Hospital and the Baltimore Urban League. He was also a member of the Rule Day Club, the Lawyers' Round Table, the Harvard Club, Merchants Club and the Maryland Historical Society.

A Republican, he was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1960 and a delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention. He served on the Republican State Central Committee from 1958 to 1967.

Friends described him as an ardent fan of the Orioles, Baltimore Colts and Ravens, as well as of the Harvard and University of Maryland football and basketball teams. He enjoyed classical music, opera and 1940s popular music.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Chapel at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. at Melrose Avenue.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Catharine Schall Foster, a former member and chair of the Maryland Historical Trust and a Roland Park Country School teacher; three sons, Walter Evan Black III of Davidsonville, Charles Foster Black of Ruxton and James Rider Black of Riderwood; and five grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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