Judge C. Philip Nichols, Jr., a longtime Laurel resident, is one of those people who makes attorney Mallon Snyder wonder, "Am I as good of a man as I should be?"
"People think that judges are detached and may not have the same set of concerns that we do," said Snyder, who has known Nichols for about four decades, since before he became a judge. "Phil really cares. He's a good man, and he lives a good life."
Earlier this month Nichols, who was appointed to the Prince George's County Circuit Court in 1992, was awarded the 2016 Anselm Sodaro Award for Judicial Civility.
Nichols said he is "floating."
"Listen, I got to be the 19th chief judge of the seventh circuit court, and I got to be the 19th winner of the Sodaro Award," he said. "I guess 19 is my lucky number here."
The Maryland State Bar Association created the honor in 1998 in memory of a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge known for the respect and dignity with which he treated everyone in his courtroom.
"To do what judges do is hard enough," said Snyder, who serves on the governing board of the state bar association and nominated Nichols for the honor. "To do it well and with concern for everyone is a really difficult thing."
Snyder recalled a night when Nichols called to commiserate about a tough case. A young man had driven the car in an accident that killed his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's father came into court carrying a box of his daughter's ashes.
Nichols told Snyder he felt bad for the father, but bad for the young man as well.
"How hard it must have been for him to make sense of all of this," Snyder said.
"It's not the easy job that everything thinks it is," Nichols, 69, said. "You're not just sitting in an overstuffed chair and watching the world go by. The process is important, the fairness is important."
Nichols strives to be professional, to be respectful of all people and to "reach the right decision in a fair way, that has to look fair," he said.
"I want to do it in a way that people still have some faith in the system," he said. "I have found that you can scare people without trying, because it's just such an intimidating place. And you never want to do that."
When asked why he became an attorney, Nichols said, "My family wanted me to be just like my father's best friend, Judge Loveless."
Judge Earnest Loveless Jr. looked after Nichols when he was in high school and his father died.
"He was a great guy. He was the perfect guy," Nichols said. "He understood people, their frailties."
Like Loveless, who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Nichols served as a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. And after attending law school at the University of Baltimore, he clerked with Loveless, who served as judge on the Prince George's County Circuit Court until 1992.
"I literally got to take his spot on the bench when he took mandatory retirement," Nichols said. "I even got his books."
He chokes up when he talks about his mentor, who died in 2007.
"Generally in America people have a lot of faith and trust in the system because of people like Loveless and Sodaro," Nichols said.
Snyder said the same of Nichols.
"He's well-read in the law. He doesn't hesitate to pick up book to look something up. He loves a good argument and is ready to debate it with you. He doesn't just say he's right — he really wants to hear and think about it, and he does it in such a way that he's amicable and people feel like they got their day in court," Snyder said. "He brings credibility to the bench."