Donald J. Gilmore Sr., 66, retired judge for Carroll Circuit Court


Retired Carroll County Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore Sr., who colleagues said brought dignity, honor, common sense and compassion to the courtroom, died of cancer Thursday at home in Manchester. He was 66.

Judge Gilmore, who directed the restoration of the county courthouse, was a member of one of the county's oldest law firms -- Walsh, Fisher and Gilmore -- and president of the county Bar Association when he was appointed to the Fifth Judicial Circuit by acting Gov. Blair Lee III in 1977.

He retired from the bench in 1990 after he was diagnosed with cancer, but continued working until recently as a visiting judge in Baltimore and as a settlement judge in Howard County.

"He went as long as he could. He knew the end was within reach," said Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge for the Baltimore Circuit Court.

Judge Kaplan brought in Judge Gilmore to preside over former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's 1994 corruption trial.

"There was nothing that I asked him to do that he didn't do well," Judge Kaplan said. "No matter how controversial the case, he could handle it. He brought dignity, a sense of humor and a good deal of common ordinary sense to his courtroom.

"His judgments were right on the mark. He had courage and was afraid of nothing. It was hard to ruffle Don. He always kept his cool," Judge Kaplan said.

In placing Ms. McLean on probation rather than sending her to prison and ordering her to perform community service, Judge Gilmore displayed his well-earned reputation for compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

"You have sinned. There is no question about it. You are being punished, and you have been punished enough. But there comes a time when enough is enough," he said.

"He was a very compassionate man both in the courtroom and out," said Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., a longtime friend and former neighbor.

"His least enjoyable cases were custody cases, which he found very troublesome because he was a strong family man and believer in the family as a unit," said Bobbi Erb, administrator of the Carroll County Circuit Court.

"During his struggle with cancer, he'd have chemotherapy in the morning and be on the bench in the afternoon. He was very heroic," said Judge Francis M. Arnold, who replaced him on the Carroll County bench.

"I always chided him that he worked harder in retirement than when he was on the bench," said Judge Arnold, who appreciated his colleague's penchant for practical jokes and finely tuned sense of the absurd.

When Judge Arnold began his first day on the bench, he found a gavel with a big X taped to the hammer end. "He didn't think I knew which end to use," he said, laughing.

Judge Gilmore also was known for his unique manner in dealing with alcohol offenders. He ordered them to write a 1,000-word report on "Under the Influence," a book written by clinical psychologist James R. Milam.

"So often I see people look at me and say, 'I'm not an alcoholic.' Then on inquiry you find out they are. They don't know what's happening inside of themselves," he told The Sun in 1987.

Judge Gilmore led the effort to preserve the Westminster courthouse, whose cornerstone was laid in 1838. By the late 1970s, the building was in a serious state of deterioration.

He ordered the white paint, which had trapped moisture, stripped from the building's brick exterior and furnished the inside with period pieces. The restoration took about 10 years to complete.

"Part of a good judiciary is the physical plant in which it works. It should command respect and this one does," he said at the building's rededication in 1987.

"It's certainly one of his legacies," said Judge Arnold. "It's a pleasure to come in here everyday. Thank God, he preserved the place."

Judge Gilmore was also extremely fond of the school groups that visited the courthouse.

"They'd ask him all kinds of questions, including if he had a nickname. He'd make a quack-quack sound and tell them his nickname was 'Ducky,' and they'd all laugh," Ms. Erb said.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Judge Gilmore moved to Towson in 1946 and graduated from Towson Catholic High School. He served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955 and earned a bachelor's degree in 1961 and a law degree in 1962, both from the University of Maryland.

He was a member of the American, Maryland, Baltimore County and Carroll County bar associations.

A memorial service will be held at 10: 30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's School Chapel, Falls Road in Brooklandville.

He is survived by his wife of 36 years, the former Sara "Sally" Hannon; a son, Donald J. "Sam" Gilmore Jr. of Sparks; a daughter, Tracy Gilmore Tilken of Manchester; three brothers, William G. Gilmore of Goochland County, Va., Dr. George T. Gilmore and John J. Gilmore, both of Lutherville; a sister, Margaret G. Palmer of Cockeysville; and 22 nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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