Judge Bruce C. Williams, who in his 31-year career on the bench presided over some of the state's most well-known legal disputes, announced his resignation yesterday from the Anne Arundel Circuit Court, becoming the third judge to retire this year.
Judge Williams announced his resignation in a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, which was distributed yesterday afternoon to the county's eight other circuit judges.
"He just said that 31 years was enough and that he wanted to do other things," Judge James C. Cawood Jr. said after reading the letter last night.
Judge Williams was unavailable for comment last night, but friends of the 64-year-old judge said that he had discussed retiring in recent months.
"This wasn't a shock, let's put it that way," Judge Cawood said.
Judge Williams joins Judge Warren B. Duckett and Judge H. Chester Goudy, who retired this year from the county Circuit Court.
He was one of the five most senior Circuit Court judges in Maryland in length of service, Judge Cawood said.
Judge Williams, known for his wit and patience on the bench, presided over some of the state's most highly publicized cases in 19 years on the Circuit Court bench.
In 1981, he ordered former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to repay the state $248,000 for kickbacks received from contractors during his term as Maryland governor from 1967 to 1969.
In 1980, when former Gov. Marvin Mandel was sued by former state Attorney General Stephen Sachs over furnishings he allegedly took with him when he left the Governor's Mansion, Judge Williams refused to rule on the matter because Mr. Mandel was serving a three-year federal prison term.
Mr. Mandel, who settled the suit for $10,000, later had convictions for mail fraud and racketeering overturned.
"That was quintessential Bruce Williams, very even-handed and fair. At a time when people were really down on Mandel, the press was down on him, everyone was down on him, Bruce Williams was the one judge who insisted that Mandel have his day in court," said T. Joseph Touhey, who defended Mr. Mandel in the case.
Mr. Touhey also praised Judge Williams for his easygoing, even-handed demeanor in other cases.
"I've very seldom seen the guy get mad at anyone, and if he did get mad at anyone, they probably deserved it," he said.
Judge Williams had a reputation for being lenient with defendants, but would draw the line on violent offenders, Mr. Touhey said.
"If you were a lawyer, you wanted your case tried in front of Bruce Williams, but if your guy was a violent offender, you know you had a client who was looking at some [jail] time," he said.
Judge Williams was named to a judgeship on the now defunct People's Court of Anne Arundel County in 1964 and to the Maryland District Court in 1971.
He was elected to the Circuit Court in 1976 and served for several years as chief judge of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court, overseeing the operation of the courthouse.
He was born in Springfield, Mass., and is a graduate of Princeton University.
He served in the Marine Corps from 1953 to 1955.
He earned a degree from the University of Virginia Law School in hTC 1958 and was admitted to the Maryland bar the same year.