Lawyer is boss, friend, family to client on eve of parole GOOD COUNSEL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The article stated incorrectly that club owner Nicholas Mangione was sued in the case and settled for an undisclosed sum. No lawsuit was ever filed. Rather, Mr. Mangione reached an agreement with a group of community leaders to dismiss the employee and have his other workers take sensitivity training.

The article also may have inadvertently implied that Mr. Mangione condoned the actions of his employee. In fact, he learned of the remarks after the fact and condemned them at a news conference.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Charles Jerome Ware knew he'd take the case almost as soon as he met Terrence Johnson inside an Eastern Shore prison.

It was July 1990, and Johnson had already spent nearly 12 years in prison in connection with the shooting deaths of two Prince George's County police officers. He was only 16 when he went to jail. But he stood up when Mr. Ware walked into the room, looked the Columbia lawyer squarely in the eye, and shook his hand with the firm confidence of a law colleague. Mr. Ware was astonished by his poise.

"I've seen inmates coming out, shuffling through. But he was gracious, elegant, courteous," Mr. Ware says. "He made me feel at ease. He showed none of that baggage that one gets in jail."

Johnson had himself a lawyer. And not just any lawyer.

Charles Jerome Ware was then general counsel for the Maryland NAACP. Though much of his experience was in antitrust cases, he had made a name for himself in Howard County taking on high-profile, racially charged cases.

Johnson's case -- a young black man fighting for parole after being convicted of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two white police officers -- was made to order for the bespectacled lawyer.

"I felt tremendously honored that he would do this," says Johnson, 31, who is expected to be released next month. "If he felt a great sense of ease with me, then it was very much mutual."

At the time, neither knew how intertwined their lives would become. But as Mr. Ware fought for Johnson's freedom, their relationship became more like father and son than lawyer and client.

It's not just that Mr. Ware agreed to take Johnson's case for free -- plenty of attorneys do pro bono work.

It's not just that Mr. Ware believed in his client so much that he decided, if necessary, to be a character witness for him. It's not just that he gave Johnson a job clerking in his law office -- thus assuring that all Johnson's work-release requirements were satisfied.

It's this: When Terrence Johnson is released from prison next month, he will move into Mr. Ware's home in Columbia and live there as long as he needs a place to stay.

"People have said, 'It's a tremendous thing you are doing,' " says Mr. Ware, 46. "But I don't think so. It was a very easy choice."

An easy choice, maybe. But other inmates shouldn't come knocking on Mr. Ware's door expecting the same treatment.

"I have never done this before and I will never, ever do it again," he says. "I want to make that clear."

So why did he do it this time? Why accept a case that drains all your time and energy? Why open your heart and home to an inmate who did, after all, shoot two police officers in a case that shocked and divided Prince George's County?

The answer, says Mr. Ware, is that Terrence Johnson is not a threat to anyone. He should have been released a long time ago.

"He has abided by all of the rules. He had a perfect case for parole," Mr. Ware says. "It is racism and politics that is keeping him there because this is a high-profile case. That's all."

But others see Johnson as a remorseless cop killer who deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. Prince George's police groups and the victims' families say Johnson should never be paroled.

"The pain is still fresh and the pain is still deep . . .," reads a press release issued by the Prince George's police department on the parole.

The day that changed Johnson's life -- June 26, 1978 -- began when his 18-year-old brother, Melvin, stole about $30 from a laundry machine. He picked up Terrence, then 15, a short time later, and the two headed for the Queens Chapel Drive-In in their father's car. But Melvin forgot to turn on the car lights.

They passed a police officer, who pulled the car over when he flashed his lights and got no response. The Johnson brothers were taken to the Hyattsville police station after officers spotted tools and change in the back of the car.

At the trial, Terrence Johnson contended he was kicked and beaten by the county police, who had a fearsome reputation for brutality toward blacks. (The police denied the allegations.) Then Johnson was taken to a small room by Officer Albert M. Claggett IV.

Grabbed the gun

Johnson testified that the officer slammed him around and kneed him in the stomach. In the confusion, he grabbed Officer Claggett's gun and pulled the trigger.

Johnson ran from the room still holding the gun. He fired five times, one shot hitting -- and killing -- Officer James Swart, 25. Another officer hit Johnson on the head and managed to get the gun away.

After a tumultuous trial in the spring of 1979, Johnson was found guilty of one count of manslaughter in the killing of Officer Claggett, 26, and for the illegal use of a handgun. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of Officer Swart. The judge sentenced Terrence Johnson to 25 years in prison.

It was nearly 12 years later when Mr. Ware drove to the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover with Johnson's wife, Donna, to meet her husband. (The two married while he was in prison and have since divorced.)

Legally, Johnson's case was languishing. He had been turned down for parole three times, and he was between attorneys.

Mr. Ware knew people on the parole board and began lobbying for Johnson's release. He wrote to the parole board, noting that Johnson had earned a degree in business administration from Morgan State University in June 1986. He detailed Johnson's good deeds while in prison, including tutoring other inmates, and pointed out numerous convicted felons who served less time than his client.

"I got letters from experts such as psychiatrists and political scientists and others recommending parole," Mr. Ware says.

It was not enough. In 1991, the parole board turned down the request for Johnson's release.

"I felt betrayal and I felt anger," Mr. Ware says of the parole board's decision.

But Mr. Ware did not give up. He appealed the parole board's decision to Anne Arundel County Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr.

By that time, Mr. Ware had decided to stop representing Johnson in his quest for parole so that he could serve as a character witness.

"I served as a resource to file the petition," he says. "But I felt I made a better witness."

At the court hearing, Johnson's lawyers questioned members of the parole board. Why, they were asked, was parole granted to other convicted murderers serving longer terms?

The judge urged the parole board to reconsider after hearing that a convicted murderer with a 60-year-term had been granted parole after serving about 19 years. The parole board decided Johnson could be eligible for parole in February after completing a 90-day work-release program.

Once again enter Charles Jerome Ware. He became Johnson's employer by giving him a job in his law office, making sure the work-release requirements were satisfied.

Living at Pre-Release

Since October, Johnson has been living at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. Each workday, Mr. Ware picks up Johnson and drives him to his home or office. At the end of the day, Mr. Ware deposits Johnson back at prison.

"I get sad every time I have to take him back," Mr. Ware says, "every time he walks through that gate."

But the day is coming when Terrence Johnson walks through that gate for the last time. His family still lives in Prince George's County, including his brother, Melvin, a recovering drug addict.

"We still have a strong bond," Johnson says. But he won't be returning to the place where he grew up.

Instead, he will begin living with Mr. Ware and his wife, Lucinda Frances Ware, and their daughter, Lucinda-Marie, at their home in Columbia.

"Several years ago, we talked about finding a place for Terrence to live and Charles asked me to work on it," says Mrs. Ware, a librarian who runs the Catonsville branch in Baltimore County.

Before she could do anything, though, her husband announced on a television newscast that Johnson would be living with them.

"I was delighted," she says. "We are already able to say anything to each other -- from the little things like talking about the laundry to the significant things like, 'How do you feel about what has happened to you?' "

Mr. Ware does not expect anyone in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Hobbits Glen to object to Johnson's presence.

"We have a perfect situation in Columbia," he says. "There's been no problems from anyone."

Mr. Ware moved to Columbia in 1972 while he was attending law school at Howard University. With its dream of all races and incomes living together in suburban harmony, it is a far different community than the segregated town of Anniston, Ala. of the 1950s.

Mr. Ware grew up in Anniston as the eighth of 12 children. His father worked at a U.S. Pipe and Steel plant as a foundry worker. His mother stayed home with the children.

But his parents always wanted more for their children and stressed the value of education, Mr. Ware says. After graduation from Talladega (Ala.) College in 1970, Mr. Ware was intent on becoming a doctor.

But after a taste of medical school at the University of Alabama, he decided to switch to law school. He got his degree from Howard.

Early in his career, he worked for the Justice Department, trying criminal and antitrust cases. He also served as chief legal counsel to the head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Federal Administrative Law Judge.

In 1987, he decided to get off the government fast track and open his own law office in Howard County.

He continued doing antitrust and corporate work. But he also began taking medical malpractice, criminal and racial discrimination cases.

A force to be reckoned with

He quickly became a force to be reckoned with in Howard County on racial issues.

In 1988, he sued millionaire developer Nicholas B. Mangione, the owner of the Turf Valley Country Club, for allowing his manager, Frederick Grimmel, to leave racist remarks on the answering machine of a local civic leader. The case, which generated a wave of media coverage, was settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

But Mr. Ware's tactics and rhetoric have gotten him into trouble.

In 1988, he filed a $27.9 million antitrust suit against the Rouse Co., Columbia's venerated developer.

He accused Rouse of running a small, black-owned dry cleaning company out of business and, at one point, made a scathing speech about the development company's greed. He even accused Rouse executives of stealing business documents from the dry cleaner and using them to blackmail him.

"I'm here to tell you right now that the Rouse Co. did it," Mr. Ware declared. "I have a vision of six-figure salary corporate executives moonlighting as burglars.

"What we have here is Rousegate."

Two years later, a Howard County judge threw out the lawsuit, saying there was no evidence the Rouse Co. had done anything illegal or improper.

Rouse declared victory and lobbed criticism at Mr. Ware for bringing the lawsuit in the first place. A Rouse spokeswoman said it was "an outrageous attempt to manipulate the legal system and pressure the company to settle a case which clearly had no merit."

But Mr. Ware doesn't apologize for being aggressive. Arguing a case in a courtroom, he says, is what he likes best.

"I love trial," he says. "The competition. The challenge. The fact that you either hit it or you don't. You win or lose."

"Charles is a tenacious advocate for his clients," says attorney Melvin White, who is also representing Terrence Johnson. "He will fight for the last breath for his clients. And what more can a client ask for?"

Certainly, Johnson couldn't ask for anything else. So it isn't surprising that he might want to follow in his mentor's footsteps.

"I do have an interest in law," Johnson says.

Mr. Ware is encouraging it. Someday, he says, maybe his client will become his law partner.

"Terrence is going to have so many options," Mr. Ware says. "Besides law, he has a keen interest in business. But I would love to have him in my law office."

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