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James S. Sfekas, 82, Circuit Court judge in Baltimore County


James Stephen Sfekas, a retired Baltimore County Circuit Court judge, died Monday of complications of a stroke at Stella Maris Hospice. He was 82 and lived in Towson.

Judge Sfekas was appointed to the bench by Gov. Harry R. Hughes in 1980. He retired in 1988 but continued handling cases for the county's Settlement Court.

He began his legal career in 1948 after graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law. He practiced in Baltimore until 1956 when he joined the city solicitor's staff.

In 1959, he was named special attorney for the State Roads Commission and from 1971 to 1977 was administrative special attorney for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration.

In 1977, acting Gov. Blair Lee III appointed him to the Baltimore County District Court, where he earned a reputation for hard work and courteousness.

"It's the most human of jobs," Judge Sfekas said about being a judge in a 1980 article in The Sun. "If he's not compassionate, if he's not aware of human weaknesses, he's not doing a good job."

"He was a humble man and a very excellent and effective judge," said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, who met Judge Sfekas in the 1970s.

"Everyone knew him as 'Gentleman Jim,'" said Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II. "He was courteous and the finest human being who ever walked the face of the earth. And when he retired, his retirement party looked like the Super Bowl, so many people came."

Judge Fader said that Judge Sfekas took case files home at night to study. "He gave the litigant's life his fullest attention," he said.

"He'd let lawyers try cases and was patient to all involved," said Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. "And all came away feeling, whether they had won or lost, that they had gotten a fair shake. I say this about very few judges. There was never an unimportant case or person in his court."

Judge Sfekas explained to his sons -- Stephen J. Sfekas of Dickeyville, a lawyer, and Howard County District Court Judge C. James Sfekas -- what's needed to be a great lawyer.

"He said, 'A lawyer needs one of these to be a success: integrity, intelligence and industry. But to be a great lawyer, he needs all three," said Stephen Sfekas.

The son of Greek immigrants, Judge Sfekas was born in Racine, Wis. After living briefly in Weirton, W.Va., the family settled in Baltimore's Greektown in 1926.

He worked in his father's restaurant while attending City College, graduating in 1934. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the Johns Hopkins University in 1939 and was drafted into the Army during World War II.

He served in Europe with the 13th Airborne Division and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1946.

He was a co-founder and later secretary of the Greek-American Democratic Club of East and Northeast Baltimore Inc., a member of Ahepa and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. He enjoyed golf and playing tennis.

In an autobiography he wrote for a granddaughter, he described himself as an "unreconstructed liberal."

Services will be held at noon tomorrow at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Maryland Avenue and Preston Street.

He also is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Litsa "Lee" Mesologites; a daughter, Carole Sfekas of Cockeysville; and seven grandchildren.

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