Joseph Fairbanks

Joseph Fairbanks ( )

Joseph Fairbanks, a retired Baltimore litigator who was an inspiration and mentor to younger attorneys, died June 12 of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia. He was 68.

"Every litigation associate in our Baltimore office sought Joe out. He was a mentor and a counselor," said Charles O. Monk III, a longtime friend and managing partner in the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing LLP.

"Having practiced law for more than 20 years, I can say that Joe was the most honest and trustworthy attorney I've ever known," said Dana N. Pescosolido, a former law partner who is now deputy general counsel at Legg Mason. "Joe was everything that was right about the law profession."

The son of a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge and a homemaker, Joseph McMillen Fairbanks was born in Washington and raised in Bethesda.

He earned a bachelor's degree in 1967 from Yale College. Mr. Fairbanks then entered the University of Maryland School of Law, from which he graduated in 1970 and where he was a member of the law review.

Mr. Fairbanks joined the law firm of Weinberg and Green as a litigation associate after completing a clerkship with Harrison L. Winter, who was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

In 1975, Mr. Fairbanks was appointed an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, where he joined Gerard P. Martin in heading the first wide-ranging investigation of Baltimore City government.

That investigation resulted in the convictions of Del. George J. Santoni and Ottavio F. Grande, a public works official and "righthand man of the Schaefer administration," reported The Evening Sun in a 1977 article.

"They did the same to four demolition contractors who paid Grande kickbacks after fixing their bids on city jobs during the urban renewal boom years of the early 1970s," reported the newspaper.

Mr. Fairbanks explained his role and that of his colleague.

"The feds are not feds. We're all Marylanders. It's not like we've come in from nowhere to investigate things the state prosecutors should have been doing," he told The Evening Sun. "We're local Maryland people taking care of local Maryland problems."

After leaving the U.S. attorney's office in 1977, Mr. Fairbanks rejoined Weinberg and Green, where he remained until establishing his own law firm, Fairbanks, Gault & Pescosolido, in 1983.

In 1994, Mr. Fairbanks joined Saul Ewing, where he was a litigation partner until retiring in 2010.

"Joe was very calm and controlled in the courtroom and was a wonderful trial lawyer who handled complex commercial fraud litigation. It was a pleasure watching him in the courtroom," said Mr. Monk.

"He was incredibly fair and a rock when it came to issues of integrity. Joe had one of the greatest senses of perspective of anyone I've ever known in this profession," he said.

"Working on a case with him meant that you had an unimpeachable colleague and a solid moral compass on your team. He was universally respected and was someone we counted on to help us make the difficult decisions," said Mr. Monk.

"When I made a change from my old law firm, there was no question where I was going to go," said Mr. Pescosolido, who praised Mr. Fairbanks' work with young lawyers.

"I thought I was a pretty good writer until I met Joe and he got a hold of my work. I was just a rookie hotshot then," said Mr. Pescosolido with a laugh. "He was a great teacher, and the young attorneys flocked to him."

"He was the kind of guy who gave constructive advice without being critical. He was always very positive," recalled Mr. Monk. "When it came to either great or small issues, Joe knew where the line had to be drawn, and he was able to tell the young lawyers how to explain them to clients."

He added: "Younger lawyers loved working with him because he was such a good and patient teacher."

A resident of Woodstock since 2006, Mr. Fairbanks earlier lived in Columbia and Bethesda. He liked golfing and was a member of Cattail Creek Country Club in Howard County.

Mr. Fairbanks enjoyed spending the fall and spring at his Ocean City beach home and summer at a family home in Greensboro, Vt., overlooking Caspian Lake. He was also a fan of used-book shops, where he indulged his passion for reading, family members said.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. July 9 at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville.

Mr. Fairbanks is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Leslie Goldman; a son, Philip J. Fairbanks of Columbia; a daughter, Beverly Fairbanks Judka of Shrewsbury, Pa.; a brother, Robert Fairbanks of Montpelier, Vt.; a sister, Ellen Cleaves of Hilton Head, S.C.; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com