Jacob D. "Jake" Hornstein, who practiced law in Baltimore for 67 years, died Feb. 8 at Maryland Shock Trauma Center of severe brain trauma after a fall. He was 92.
"He was a fine gentleman and was well-versed in the law. He was also very bright," said Sidney Schlachman, a partner in the firm of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner, who had known Mr. Hornstein for nearly 60 years. "He had a fine reputation with other attorneys, and anytime you can say he was a lawyer and a gentleman, that's saying something."
The only child of Clarence and Esther Birnbaum, Jacob Henry Birnbaum was born in Baltimore.
"The marriage never worked from the start, and the couple divorced three years later, something quite uncommon in those days," said a son, Ken Hornstein, a former lawyer who lives in Owings Mills. "As part of the divorce terms, Esther Birnbaum had her name changed back to Hornstein, and Jacob's legal name to Hornstein."
Mr. Hornstein spent his early years living in the Esplanade apartments on Reservoir Hill. After the death of his grandfather, Jacob D. Hornstein, an owner of the Wear-Well Pants Co., in a 1927 traffic accident, he and his mother and grandmother moved to Elisnore Avenue in Forest Park.
"The family had limited means, and sacrificed a lot so that Jake could attend Park School for several years," said his son, who is now a Hunt Valley financial planner.
After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1938 when he was 16, Mr. Hornstein earned a bachelor's degree in 1941 from the Johns Hopkins University.
During World War II, he worked for the U.S. Geological Survey's topographical branch in Washington, creating aeronautical charts and topographical maps from photographs.
"The military determined that it was more efficient to keep my father and the other highly trained employees working in their positions than to move them to active service positions and having to retrain others," his son said.
While working for the U.S. Geological Survey by day, Mr. Hornstein studied law at Georgetown University Law School, from which he earned his degree in 1946.
He passed both the Maryland and District of Columbia bar examinations and began practicing law with Krenner & Fine in Baltimore before establishing his own practice.
Through the years, Mr. Hornstein maintained law offices in the Court Square, Munsey and Equitable Trust buildings in downtown Baltimore. In recent years, and until his death, he practiced from an office on Hooks Lane in Pikesville.
Mr. Hornstein's general law practice included criminal law, personal injury, insurance defense, immigration, real estate, business transactions, estates and trusts, divorce and appellate cases.
"He was a character, and I got to know Jake years ago when my wife and his wife were in the same bridge group," said Bernie Sevel, a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Arnold, Sevel & Gay.
"The only time we were in court together was when we were on opposite sides in a divorce case, and I'm afraid I beat Jake on that one," Mr. Sevel said with a laugh.
"He was an extremely intelligent and brainy guy who was near the top of the bar exam. Was he a bit of an eccentric — hell, yes — but he knew the law," Mr. Sevel said. "Jake was Jake, and he handled a little bit of everything legally."
"What gave my father the greatest satisfaction was both the intellectual challenge from his work and being able to help his clients and make a positive difference in their lives," Mr. Hornstein said in his father's eulogy.
"As Dad faced greater physical challenges due to age and health, he told me that what kept him going was that his still-sharp mind and many years of legal experience allowed him to continue to be useful to society," his son said.
His wife of 45 years, the former Betty Spiegelberg, who had served as a member of the Maryland Department of Human Resources advisory council, died in 1996.
For years, Mr. Hornstein had lived on Wood Valley Drive in Stevenson, and more recently at the Pomona Apartments in Pikesville.
Mr. Hornstein was a voracious reader of nonfiction and was especially interested in history, current events and business.
He was a lifelong member of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and was a past president of its brotherhood and a member of its board of directors. He was a member of the Suburban Club.
"He was on his way to a hearing Thursday when he fell backward and hit his head on the sidewalk, so he was literally practicing law until the very moment he mentally checked out of this world with no pain, something I know he would have had no complaints about," his son said.
Funeral services for Mr. Hornstein were held Feb. 9 at Sol Levinson & Bros.
In addition to his son, Mr. Hornstein is survived by another son, Richard Hornstein of Long Beach, Calif.; a daughter, Ellen Hornstein of Silver Spring; and five grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun