When he announced his retirement from Maryland's highest court in 1979, Judge Charles E. Orth Jr. said he wanted "time to relax and to do some things I want."
But work remained the thing he most wanted to do, and he continued to hear cases from the bench and write legal opinions that shaped Maryland law until he died of heart failure Wednesday at Ferry Farm, his home near Annapolis. He was 80.
Judge Orth was one of the five original members of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, created in 1967 as an intermediate appellate court. He was elevated to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest tribunal, in 1976.
During retirement, he worked for four-month periods each year to help reduce the case backlog on the Court of Appeals docket.
He died before some of the most recent legal opinions he wrote had been issued -- the last in a vast legacy admired by colleagues as incisive, fair, tough and compassionate, and which helped shape and rewrite Maryland's criminal laws for a quarter-century.
"Charlie was one of a kind -- a gentleman of the old school. He had great integrity and scholarship and was interested in the common people and their problems as well as the larger issues," said Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy.
Judge Murphy befriended Judge Orth when both served as original members of the Court of Special Appeals. Judge Murphy was that bench's first chief judge. They also served together on the Court of Appeals.
"The Court of Appeals has been around for some 300 years," Judge Murphy said. "In all that time, there have been a lot of judges. If you started counting on your fingers, he would be one of the most outstanding appellate judges. I can't imagine a better judge, anyway."
"Charlie Orth was not only legally brilliant and prodigiously productive, he was first and foremost a kind and gentle man," said Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. of the Court of Special Appeals.
"To a generation of us who came under his tutelage on the Court of Special Appeals, he was our father figure as well as our teacher and our role model. It is hard to think of the Maryland judiciary without him."
Judge Orth was born in Baltimore. He graduated from Friends School in 1931 and from the Johns Hopkins University in 1935, where he received several honors and was captain of the lacrosse team. He had the highest three-year average at the University of Baltimore law school when he graduated in 1939.
He went into private practice in 1939, primarily handling real estate matters. He was a major in the Army during World War II, working in military intelligence, and for two years led the counter-intelligence corps for Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Judge Orth was named assistant Baltimore state's attorney in 1947 and returned to private practice in 1951.
He held several civic posts and was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals by then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes in 1967. Former Gov. Marvin Mandel elevated him to the state's highest court.
Survivors include his wife, the former Eugenia Ann Eley, whom he married in 1936; a son, Charles E. Orth III of Upperco; a daughter, Ann Orth Gallager of Ellicott City; a brother, Dr. John G. Orth of Rosedale; two sisters, Henrietta Orth Lucht of Detroit and Nancy Orth Vendett of Bethesda; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services were set for 3 p.m. Monday at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Church Circle, Annapolis.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Anne's Episcopal Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis 21401; or to the Anne Arundel Medical Center Auxiliary, Franklin Street, Annapolis 21401.