Roland Walker, a colorful and highly regarded defense attorney who was a fixture in Baltimore courtrooms for six decades, died Saturday of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, at his Lutherville home. He was 82.
"Roland was always a person's lawyer. He represented people, not organizations or institutions, and he did it brilliantly," said Joseph F. Murphy Jr., former chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. "He did mainly criminal defense work and always had a wonderful way with people, judges and jurors."
"Roland Walker is a legend. He never blew his horn. For him, actions spoke louder than words," said Baltimore County District Judge Sally C. Chester, who went to work in 1978 as Mr. Walker's law clerk. "He had integrity and honesty."
"The legal profession has lost a master," said Baltimore defense attorney Jane G. Loving. "He was courtly and authoritative without being aggressive."
The son of a bail bondsman and a homemaker, Roland Walker was born in Baltimore and raised on Loyola Southway in Guilford.
After graduating from City College in 1946, where he ran track and was a football cheerleader, Mr. Walker's goal was to get a job at a Read's drugstore.
After being turned down because he was too young, "his brother took him to the University of Baltimore to discuss the possibility of college," said a son, Bart A. Walker, a lawyer who lives in New York City. "The registrar asked him what he wanted to study and he didn't know. She suggested pre-law when he told her his father was a bail bondsman."
When Mr. Walker graduated in 1950 from the University of Baltimore at age 20 with his law degree, he was too young to take the bar examination. Instead, he joined the Army where he served with the Judge Advocate General Corps as a defense attorney.
He was admitted to the Maryland State Bar in 1952.
"He gathered great courtroom experience at Fort Meade, Camp Pickett and Fort Indiantown Gap," his son said.
After being discharged from the Army in 1955, Mr. Walker returned to Baltimore and opened a private practice in the Court Square Building at Lexington and Calvert streets, where he worked for the next 50 years.
Without any clients in those early days. Mr. Walker would sit in courtrooms observing lawyers trying cases. One day, he was watching a trial in which a woman had been accused of murdering her husband.
"He went up to the defense attorney and asked why he wasn't using the defense of temporary insanity. The attorney said he didn't think it was a good case," his son said.
After Mr. Walker laid out his strategy, the attorney told him if "you can make the case, then why don't you try," his son said. Mr. Walker did and won the case.
For nearly the next 60 years, until being forced to retire last year because of his illness, Mr. Walker became a ubiquitous presence in Baltimore courtrooms, where he was a friend to all.
"He clearly cared for his clients. He was always well-prepared, knew the law and when to apply it," said Ms. Loving. "He was such a gentleman. If anyone could work out a case, people wanted to work with him."
"Roland was the kind of attorney who had opponents but no enemies. When I was a prosecutor and had cases with him, he was forceful but never obnoxious, and judges respected him for that," recalled Judge Murphy. "He never tried any sneaky moves.
"Litigation can be difficult, but Roland never made it more difficult. His clients, former clients, lawyers and judges always flooded to him," said Judge Murphy, who is now in private practice. "You can't expect clients to love their lawyer, but that's the way they felt about him. He was able to maintain good and lasting relationships."
"I always thought he was a first-rate defense attorney. He always played by the book," said retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan. "He was a very honorable guy, and I always liked to see him in court."
Mr. Walker favored well-tailored suits and fast automobiles. His Jaguar convertible sported a distinctive vanity license plate that read "WALK."
"This was not only a play on his name but also a statement about what he did for his clients in criminal cases," said Murray Hill neighbor Rush Loving, a retired Fortune magazine editor and author who is married to Jane G. Loving.
In a 1982 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Walker explained how he approached his work.
"If I'm called into a case just weeks before the trial, I'll get a postponement so I can research the case and do a good job for my client," he said.
"He was consummately prepared. He taught me that a case was about preparation, preparation and more preparation," said Judge Chester.
For the past 13 years, Marc Zayon was Mr. Walker's law partner.
"He was a phenomenal mentor and was always willing to help young attorneys who had problems," said Mr. Zayon, who added that Mr. Walker also kept in touch with his clients.
"He did the follow-up. He never forgot them," said Mr. Zayon. "They called him 'Mr. Roland,' and they were always calling, sending cards and letters, even though he had retired."
Mr. Zayon said that when he has a legal problem or an entanglement, he immediately thinks "WWRD."
"That means, 'What would Roland do?' and then you get an answer," said Mr. Zayon.
Mr. Walker was a volunteer attorney with Volunteers in Service to America, and served as counsel to numerous grass-roots organizations and housing and human rights groups for economically disadvantaged people.
He lectured at the University of Baltimore School of Law and was vice president of X-Cell Inc., a residential drug and alcohol treatment center.
For the past year, Mr. Walker lived in Lutherville. He was a member of Beth El Congregation.
Services were held Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros.
In addition to his son, Mr. Walker is survived by his wife of 33 years, the former Vada Simpson; another son, Robert E. Walker of Chevy Chase; three daughters, Hope E. Slonim of Falls Church, Va., Nicole Upton of Forest Hill and Lindsey Smith of Owings Mills; and seven grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Norma Tucker ended in divorce.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun