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James K. Fowley

The Baltimore Sun

James Kemp "Jake" Fowley, a trial attorney whose door was open to troubled clients, died of esophageal cancer Friday at his Phoenix home. He was 62.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Stoneleigh, he was a 1962 graduate of Towson High School, where he won statewide awards for wrestling. He earned a bachelor's degree at Lake Forest College in Illinois and a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

"We graduated from law school and realized we were too old and too independent to work for someone else," his law partner, John W. Beckley, said of their decision to form a practice in 1974.

"Jake was an eccentric with a wonderful heart and a quick mind who was there for anyone who needed help, often immediate help. Jake had tremendous empathy for clients who had nowhere else to turn."

Mr. Beckley recalled that his friend and law partner had a convincing, articulate manner in the courtroom but liked to work with his hands on the weekends.

"Jake raced motorcycles, and he would weld and take machinery apart. He always drove a car that looked like a piece of junk. One of his cars had no reverse. He would say, 'I can park on a hill and drift back.'"

The law practice was located on East Lexington Street for 25 years until it moved to Hunt Valley in 1999. After representing insurance companies, he switched sides and began representing injured plaintiffs.

He appeared before district and circuit courts throughout the state. In 1999, he defended two men he described in a news article as "scapegoats for a used-tire salesman" who paid them $100 for each truckload of tires they dumped in a South Baltimore lot.

He was the chief hearing officer for the Baltimore City Civil Service Commission and sat on the board of the Lawyers' Assistance Program.

"Jake was my mentor and like an older brother," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, a longtime friend who shared space in the Lexington Street office. "He ran his office in a noble, healing sort of way, more akin to a doctor or priest. He believed our tomorrows could be better than our todays and always tried to look for the good in other people. He helped them face their own demons or get through a bad accident."

About 10 years ago, Mr. Fowley acknowledged his alcoholism and became sober. He was an active member of Alcoholic Anonymous - and often spoke at meetings throughout Baltimore city and county. He helped establish two recovery residences, Lutheran Nazareth House in Highlandtown and another in Dundalk. He often provided free legal services to those recently released from prisons.

When defending drunken drivers, he advocated the installation of a breath device that would stop them from operating a vehicle if impaired.

"He was a very good lawyer who did much good for Baltimore," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., also a friend. "He cared for his clients and for people who had lost their way."

Mr. Fowley enjoyed reading works of Irish history and listening to Celtic music.

A memorial celebration will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 13919 Sunnybrook Road in Phoenix.

Survivors include his wife of 25 years, the former Vickie "Rose" Little; four sons, David Rhodes, J. Kemp Fowley Jr., Maxfield Fowley and Tagart Fowley, all of the family home in Phoenix.

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