E. Clinton Bamberger Jr., pioneer in legal aid for poor

Baltimore attorney argued before Supreme Court and created national system of legal aid for those in need

E. Clinton Bamberger Jr., a Baltimore attorney who helped shape the practice of criminal and civil law in Maryland and across the nation over the past half-century, died Sunday at Roland Park Place. The former Inner Harbor and Bolton Hill resident was 90.

Mr. Bamberger spent most of his legal career fighting on behalf of disadvantaged people — particularly children poisoned by lead paint — and in 1963 his defense of a convicted murderer led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling for defendants' rights.

He also helped create a national legal support system for low-income people and worked with lawyers in South Africa to assist blacks after apartheid ended in that country in 1994.

"He was one of the giants of the profession," said Herbert Garten, 88, a Baltimore attorney who has practiced in Maryland since 1954.

He said Mr. Bamberger "was very well respected here in Maryland and nationwide and internationally. He was a pioneer in providing civil legal services for the poor."

"He was a great man," said Michael Millemann, a professor at the University of Maryland's law school. "Those words are overused — but they apply in his case."

Mr. Bamberger's accomplishments early in his career continue to influence the practice of civil and criminal law today.

In 1963, he represented convicted murderer John L. Brady of Maryland before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that led the high court to rule prosecutors must give defendants any evidence they possess that may indicate their innocence. Failure to do so is a violation of the 14th Amendment, the court wrote in what has been known ever since as the "Brady rule."

Legal experts have long hailed the decision as one of the most significant developments in criminal justice law.

In 1958, an Anne Arundel County jury convicted Mr. Brady and an accomplice, Charles D. Boblit, of first-degree murder. Both were sentenced to death. Mr. Brady had admitted to being involved in the robbery that resulted in the murder, but said Mr. Boblit had killed the victim. Mr. Boblit confessed that he alone had committed the murder, but prosecutors withheld that confession from defense lawyers in Mr. Brady's case.

Mr. Bamberger failed to convince the Maryland Court of Appeals to grant Mr. Brady a new trial — but the court did order a new hearing on his punishment, which was reduced to life in prison.

"I thought that was as far as I could go," Mr. Bamberger said in a video interview maintained by Georgetown University.

It wasn't. He appealed to the Supreme Court.

The high court sided with Maryland's court, but in its ruling articulated the doctrine that's still invoked by defense attorneys when they believe prosecutors are holding back evidence that could help their clients.

"This was a watershed opinion that has been of extraordinary importance," Mr. Millemann said. "It balanced the playing field so that fewer innocent people were convicted. It is used as a tool for fairness every day in criminal trials across the country."

Another of Mr. Bamberger's accomplishments came in the late 1960s when he helped develop the legal assistance system for low-income people.

In 1965, Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and architect of President Johnson's War on Poverty, picked Mr. Bamberger as the first director of legal services at the federal Office of Economic Opportunity.

The position empowered Mr. Bamberger to devise the first national program to help the poor with civil legal problems. It was the predecessor agency for what in 1974 was established by Congress as the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that today provides funding to 134 legal aid organizations across the nation, including in Maryland.

Mr. Bamberger left a post as dean of the Catholic University of America's law school to become executive vice president of the corporation in 1975 and stayed for five years.

In 1982, he joined the University of Maryland law school to build its clinical law program into a nationally distinctive effort using law students to provide free services to the poor.

"He was an extraordinarily important leader nationally in the development of legal aid for the poor," Mr. Millemann said.

Mr. Bamberger wasn't done forging legal precedents. In 1984, he successfully represented a West Baltimore woman in a lead paint case that gave tenants more power over landlords.

Prior to the case, landlords had to remove lead paint only if it was peeling or chipping or if a child had high lead levels in their blood. But the judge ruled tenants were allowed to put rent into a court-controlled account if lead-based paint was "easily accessible to a child," even without signs of poisoning.

"Clint saw lead paint as a scourge that society and government had let happen," said Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, a close friend who was mentored by Mr. Bamberger.

"Before he spoke out, we weren't taking the right steps affecting the poor and many African-American children," Mr. Rosenberg said. "He was the kind of lawyer that every law school student should aspire to be."

In 1989, Mr. Bamberger became involved in developing legal aid systems around the world, especially in South Africa prior to the end of apartheid in 1994.

Born in Baltimore on July 2, 1926, he was the son of investment banker E. Clinton Bamberger Sr., and his wife, Ann.

Mr. Bamberger enjoyed telling friends about spending time at a relative's neighborhood grocery store near Calvert and Read streets.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree at what is now Loyola University Maryland and was a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in 1951. He then worked as a law clerk for judges Charles Markell and Edward Delaplaine.

He became an associate at Piper & Marbury in 1952, served as state assistant attorney general from 1958 to 1959, then in 1960 became a Piper & Marbury partner.

Mr. Bamberger became active in Democratic politics and ran for Maryland attorney general in the 1966 primary election. He lost by 14,701 votes to Francis B. "Bill" Birch.

In the late 1970s, in addition to his position at the Legal Services Corporation, he taught poverty law to Harvard and Northeast University students.

"The two things I have enjoyed most have been being a legal aid lawyer and teaching, and now I can do both," he told the Washington Post in 1979.

In recent years, Mr. Bamberger became the first board member named to the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, an organization that seeks to address issues of poverty, criminal justice and education.

"Clinton was a rigorous thinker who had high ethical standards and was fearless. He constantly reminded us that our job was to take risks," said Diana Morris, the institute's director. "When he thought there was a wrong done, he used the legal system to bring about justice."

She recalled Mr. Bamberger had hundreds of professional connections — he had legal assignments and took sabbaticals across the world, and made friends along the way. He and his wife also opened their home to scores of visitors.

"He never tired of connecting people with good causes," said Kalman R. Hettleman, a public education advocate and longtime friend.

Mr. Bamberger's wife of 64 years, the former Katharine Kelehar, a civic activist who also worked for Baltimore's poor, died in December.

Mr. Garten, a Democrat who was appointed in 2003 by President George W. Bush to the Legal Services Corporation board, recalled the couple as "the perfect pair."

Mr. Bamberger donated his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete. A memorial fund in his name has been established at Viva House, 26 S. Mount St., Baltimore, 21223.

Survivors include a son, Edward C. Bamberger III of Timonium; and three grandchildren. A daughter, Christine Ann Bamberger, died in 1998.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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