Paul A. Dorf, a former state senator and Baltimore City circuit judge who championed the use of arbitration and mediation as alternatives to an overcrowded court system, died of renal cancer Thursday at his home in Harbor Court. He was 86.
"Paul brought a very strong spirit of collegiality, high ethical standards, energy and enthusiasm to the practice of law," said Oren D. Saltzman, managing partner of the law firm of Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC, which Judge Dorf joined in 1983 after retiring from the bench.
"He was at the forefront of the alternative dispute resolution movement in Maryland. He took great pride serving as a mentor to lawyers, judges and political aspirants."
A Baltimore native and graduate of Forest Park High School, Paul Aaron Dorf enlisted in the Naval Air Force during World War II. He received basic flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas and flew as a radio gunner during the war. He was honorably discharged in May 1946.
Following the war, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. He passed the Maryland bar in July 1950, 11 months prior to receiving his law degree.
"He loved the law," said Mr. Saltzman, who worked alongside Judge Dorf for the past six years, but whose association goes back more than 30 years. "Above all, he was an extremely ethical person. Everything was always done within the rules."
The son-in-law of longtime Baltimore political boss James H. "Jack" Pollack, Judge Dorf spent six years as an assistant city solicitor. He was serving as chief judge of the Baltimore City Traffic Court when named to replace the resigning Aaron A. Baer as a Democratic state senator from the city's 5th Legislative District in May 1961. He was elected in his own right the following year and remained in the legislature through 1968.
Judge Dorf became an associate judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City (now known as the Circuit Court for Baltimore City) in 1968, defeating a sitting judge. He became known as one of the circuit's more conservative judges; in criminal cases, especially, he earned a reputation for being hard-nosed.
He remained on the bench for 15 years, retiring in April 1983 to accept an offer to join what was then the firm of Adelberg, Rudow, Handler and Semeth and concentrate on domestic law. At the time, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun, he said he was leaving the bench with "mixed emotions," but added that the opportunity to return to private practice was "too good to turn down, to tell you the truth."
With his new firm, Judge Dorf devoted much of his practice to family law, litigation and alternate dispute resolution. He worked to help unclog a courts system that was becoming, in his mind, increasingly unwieldy, serving as a volunteer arbitrator/mediator for the Circuit Courts and Orphans Courts for Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
"Alternative methods of dispute resolution work," Judge Dorf wrote in a Baltimore Sun op-ed piece in May 1989. "They are clearly the wave of the future. With apparently no end in sight to the horrendous increase in criminal caseloads, the only way to resolve the civil litigation backlog is through arbitration and mediation."
Judge Dorf's gentlemanly manner and willingness to pitch in wherever needed served him well.
"If somebody asked him to do something, he would do it — there was never a question," Mr. Saltzman said. "He was probably the most popular person in the firm."
Mr. Saltzman said he had long been aware of Judge Dorf's approachability and kindness. He had first met the judge in 1979, long before becoming an attorney.
"There were no airs about him, he was always very nice to me," Mr. Saltzman said, "and I was just a doorman."
Judge Dorf's daughter, Cynthia Dorf Kleiman, of Scottsdale, Ariz., said those qualities carried over to his family life.
"He was a wonderful dad," she said. "He was fabulous. He participated in all of our activities."
Judge Dorf was an adjunct faculty member of the University of Baltimore Law School, University of Maryland University College and the Maryland Institute for Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers. His hobbies included reading, tennis and golf. He also enjoyed traveling, his daughter said.
"He just liked to experience anyplace that he hadn't been," she said.
Judge Dorf is survived by his wife, the former Helene Penn Coplan. His first wife, the former Rhona Pollack, died in 2008 after 57 years of marriage. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, James Howard Dorf of Reisterstown; a sister, Miriam Dorf of Towson; a brother, Stanley Dorf of Baltimore County; and six grandchildren. A second daughter, Jayme Dorf Weinstein, died in 2004.
Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Sunday at the Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home, 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. Memorial contributions may be sent to the American Cancer Society, 8219 Town Center Dr., Baltimore, 21236.