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Judicial civility lauded


Minutes after a Frederick chemist was convicted of trying to poison a former co-worker with mercury, he turned to his lawyer and told him he had taken cyanide.

Stunned, lawyer Dino Flores approached Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. and told him what happened. Always calm, Kane handled the situation with aplomb.

Kane quickly had deputies take the chemist out of the courtroom to a back hallway, where the chemist went into convulsions. The chemist died a day later.

"I don't know how anybody could have handled it, and [Kane] handled it so professionally," Flores recalled more than three years after the case. "Even the most hideous circumstances didn't faze him at all."

That kind of cool-headed, even-handed manner is what colleagues were remembering best about Kane as he retired from the bench Wednesday after serving there for 23 years.

Kane, 66, had been the chief judge of the bench since 2004 and said he wanted to spend more time with his three grandchildren and to travel. He also wants to catch up on hobbies - play golf, go to the symphony, follow the Orioles.

"I really think I can make use of my time," Kane said. "And I'm really looking forward to it."

Born in Baltimore, Kane moved to Howard County when he was 13. He got a taste of courtroom drama in his teens, when he worked for a lawyer doing title work.

"Sometimes, when I wasn't supposed to, I'd sneak into the courthouse and watch trials," he said.

Captivated by courtroom dynamics - and after an attempt at pre-med studies that failed because he was not good in chemistry - Kane attended the University of Maryland School of Law, graduating in 1963.

He worked as an attorney from 1964 to 1977. He was a District Court judge from 1977 to 1982 and was the district administrative judge for Howard and Carroll counties for two years.

He has been on the Howard Circuit Court bench since 1982. During that time, colleagues say, Kane has been unflappable and consistently fair.

"There are no complaints coming out of Judge Kane's courtroom," said Carol A. Hanson, district public defender for Howard and Carroll counties. "You always feel that your client has been treated fairly, with respect and dignity, and the counsel are treated in a courteous and professional manner. He's wonderful."

Kane was the first recipient of the Maryland State Bar Association's Judge Anselm Sodaro Judicial Civility Award in 1998. When the award was created to honor a judge who best exemplifies the highest level of civility and professionalism in the courtroom, the bar and bench had an immediate reaction: "That award was created for Judge Kane," said Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney.

Judge Diane O. Leasure, the Howard Circuit Court administrative judge, said Kane's receipt of the award showed that he possesses qualities that all members of the judiciary should aspire to attain.

"A tremendous work ethic, fairness, a willingness to share his knowledge of the law, integrity, a sense of humor and collegiality," Leasure said during a retirement dinner for Kane last month. "What more could you ask of a judge? What more could you ask of a colleague? What more could you ask of a friend?

Sweeney, who was paired with Kane to learn the ropes when he became a judge, said Kane is undeniably reliable: He shows up to work every day and does more work than anyone else.

"He's sort of like the Cal Ripken of the courthouse," Sweeney said. "He does more cases than anybody."

Kane will continue to preside over cases in his retirement. He will serve as a settlement judge on a somewhat regular basis, Leasure said.

"We'll miss him tremendously. ... He's just a phenomenal person," said Leasure, who, when she received Kane's letter expressing his plans to retire, returned it unopened with a note that read, "Return to Sender - Address Unknown."

Kane's retirement leaves a second vacancy on the five-member circuit bench. Judge James B. Dudley retired in January.

Finalists have been selected to fill both positions, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will select a judge. The new judges must run for election in 2006 for a 15-year term.

The eight finalists for Kane's seat are: District Judge Louis A. Becker; Richard S. Bernhardt, an assistant attorney general; Hanson, the district public defender for Howard and Carroll counties; Mary V. Murphy, a Howard senior assistant state's attorney; Howard Master Elaine Patrick; and lawyers Richard Bruce Rosenblatt, Jonathan Scott Smith and Paul M. Vettori.

But colleagues say Kane is irreplaceable.

"Everyone loves him without exception, whether you're an attorney or a victim or an accused or a civil litigant," Assistant Public Defender Janette DeBoissiere said. "He's very patient. He's fair. And I want to be just like him."

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