Michael Waring Lee, chief judge of Baltimore City Orphans' Court, died Sunday of complications after colon surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 42.
Judge Lee was a great-nephew of Everett J. Waring, who in 1885 became the first black admitted to the Maryland Bar.
Judge Lee also made history -- as the first black to be appointed a chief judge of any court in Maryland. In 1983, he was 30 years old when Gov. Harry R. Hughes selected him to fill a vacancy on the three-member Orphans' Court. Judge Lee was elevated to chief judge in 1984 after the retirement of Judge C. Warren Colgan.
The Orphans' Court renders decisions on legal disputes involving wills, estates and the guardianship of minors.
Judge Lee "was a brilliant fellow who made a tremendous mark there and took a great deal of pride in the development of the Orphans' Court," said Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals. "He made it more respectable. He fought to upgrade it and made it a force to be reckoned with.
"I've always had a great deal of respect for him because he was a serious young man who was wedded to the law. He was respected not only by judges and lawyers but by the community. He was a good man and I'll miss him and so will this community," Judge Bell said.
Chief Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman of Baltimore Circuit Court said of his former law clerk: "He was a real pioneer with the Orphans' Court. He made it a full-time commitment and professionalized it. He increased its stature and gave it dignity. He has left a great monument.
"He had a generous love and passion for the mechanics of the law. He loved the work of the court. He had a very fertile and innovative mind and an enormous amount of energy to do constructive and lasting things. There are few judges who have contributed as much as he did."
Before being appointed to the court, Judge Lee worked briefly as assistant to the city solicitor and practiced with the firm of Mitchell, Mitchell and Mitchell.
Judge Lee also taught appellate advocacy at University of Maryland law school.
"He always thought that teaching was a major part of his life and developed a special rapport with his students and they received a top-notch education in appellate advocacy. He was totally dedicated in making young people good lawyers," said Donald G. Gifford, dean of the UM law school.
Born in Baltimore, Judge Lee was raised in a Whitelock Street rowhouse by his parents Thomas M. Lee Sr., a photographer, and Francis Lee, a schoolteacher, social worker and college librarian.
Judge Lee was a 1968 graduate of Northwestern High School, where he was active in student government and later founded the alumni association. He earned his bachelor's degree at Macalester College in Minnesota and his law degree from UM.
Memorial services will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave., and at noon Tuesday in Westminster Hall at the University of Maryland law school.
In addition to his parents, he is survived by two brothers, Franklin M. Lee of Randallstown and Thomas M. Lee Jr. of Baltimore; a nephew; a niece; and two friends, Larry Gibson and Jeffrey Wyatt, both of Baltimore.