Wilson K. Barnes Sr., 90, lawyer, former Maryland Court of Appeals judge


Wilson K. Barnes Sr., a former judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at the Lutherville home of a son. He was 90 and formerly lived in Roland Park.

In 1964, Gov. J. Millard Tawes appointed Mr. Barnes, then a judge of the old Supreme Bench of Baltimore, to the Court of Appeals.

Judge Barnes resigned in protest in 1974 after Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed John C. Eldridge, his chief legislative aide, to the court, a move that Judge Barnes called "a political appointment of a real crony."

"He thought it was the right decision at the right time, and it was something that he had to do," said a son, William C. C. Barnes of Lutherville. "He was a man of great principles."

After leaving the Court of Appeals, Judge Barnes ran for governor, losing to Mr. Mandel in the Democratic primary.

He returned to private practice with the Baltimore firm of Little, Hall & Steinman and retired in 1982.

In his 32-year law career before being appointed in 1963 to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore by Governor Tawes, Judge Barnes was admired and respected for his knowledge of zoning cases, building contracts and constitutional questions.

He brought this expertise to the Court of Appeals, where he remained interested in land condemnation and zoning matters.

Judge Barnes, a portly man of medium height whose face was highlighted by hexagonal rimless gold glasses and hair that was parted down the middle, was highly esteemed by his colleagues and other members of the bar.

On the Court of Appeals, Judge Barnes earned a reputation as a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist and for his long, detailed opinions.

"He was quite a scholar and a delightful colleague," said former ++ Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, who sat next to him on the bench.

"He knew the law from A to Z. He was highly respected and had a certain professional grace that really stood out."

As a longtime student of the law and legal history, Judge Barnes conducted research that led to the change in 1972 of the color of the state Court of Appeals judges' robes from black to red.

"He came up with this notion and found out through his research that the red robes went back to Colonial days and the time of the Revolutionary War," Judge Murphy said. "Consequently, this is the only court in the land where the judges wear red robes."

State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein was a close friend for many years.

"He was a great judge who was dedicated to the law and had a high regard for it," Mr. Goldstein said yesterday from Annapolis.

James D. Stone, a Baltimore attorney who was a clerk for Judge Barnes in 1963, recalled his influence on the other clerks and people aspiring to legal careers.

"He used to say, 'Work as hard as you can and as long as you can and then go to bed and get a good night's sleep,' " Mr. Stone said. "He'd often work until 2 a.m. and then return to the office bright and early the next morning, fresh and ready to go again."

Wilson K. Barnes was born and raised in Pocomoke City in Worcester County and graduated from high school there in 1924. He earned a bachelor's degree from Western Maryland College in 1928, and attended law school at Harvard University until his money ran out. He then entered the University of Maryland law school, graduating in 1931.

He began his career early in the Great Depression as a $19.05-a-week law clerk for W. Calvin Chestnut, a federal judge, who became his father-in-law after his 1938 marriage to Elizabeth Chestnut. She died in 1982.

He began practicing law in 1933 and was appointed an assistant city solicitor in 1940. He was deputy city solicitor from 1942 to 1943. In 1943, he joined the law firm of Anderson, Barnes, Coe & King where he was practiced until 1963.

Judge Barnes, whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, was a former president of the Society of the War of 1812, the Society of Colonial Wars in Maryland and the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was also a member of the Flag House, the Maryland Historical Society, the Ancient & Honorable Mechanical Co. and the Eastern Shore Society of Baltimore City.

He was a longtime communicant of St. David's Episcopal Church, Roland Avenue and Oakdale Road, where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

He is also survived by another son, Wilson K. Barnes Jr. of the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County; and five grandchildren.

Pub Date: 8/21/97

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