Longtime Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael D. Rexroad arrived at Howard County Circuit Court last week for what he thought was a routine show-cause hearing.
But he quickly found that the hearing was a ploy to lure him to Courtroom 1 for a surprise sendoff Thursday to mark his retirement after more than 28 years with the state's attorney's office.
He told the assembled judges, prosecutors, public defenders and court staff that he pleaded guilty to retirement on condition that he will spend it relaxing and teaching at the University of Baltimore Law School, his alma mater.
"I never had a goal of staying there for 28 years." Rexroad, 62, said after the quasi-roasting by his colleagues. "It was a job that every day challenges you, and there is always something new to learn."
His last day on the job was Friday.
Deputy State's Attorney F. Todd Taylor Jr. said Rexroad, a history and technology buff, was an inspiration to the younger prosecutors. "He is going to be missed around here," Taylor said. "He is a walking law encyclopedia."
During the spoof hearing, there were few objections to his retirement, other than tongue-in-cheek remarks by Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone urging people to testify that Rexroad should stay. McCrone's arguments did not weigh heavily on the five-judge panel that unanimously issued a mock ruling to accept Rexroad's retirement.
"He is considered an institution in Howard County legal circles," Circuit Judge Richard S. Bernhardt said. "He provided a model of what a prosecutor should be."
Retired Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said Rexroad's closing arguments were "a must-see moment."
Colleagues said Rexroad's closings had a way of conveying a clear picture of a case that grabbed the attention of jurors.
But Rexroad recalled a time when he was less than perfect. "I was into the closing argument, and I forgot the victim's name," he said.
Luckily, he added, nobody noticed.
Kane joked that Rexroad was known for saturating a case with details, even down to the vehicle identification number for the cars involved in the crime.
"I would stop him and ask for him to repeat the numbers again," Kane said.
Rexroad did not start his career prosecuting cases. Rexroad, who graduated from American University after serving in the Air Force, received his law degree from the University of Baltimore and was a defense lawyer for a year.
He joined the Howard County state's attorney's office in 1979. According to colleagues, he quickly moved through the ranks and was appointed a senior assistant state's attorney, a supervisory role, in 1981.
His duties included being a trial team leader, chief of the narcotics unit, chief of the Circuit Court Division and director of training. He specialized in constitutional law, search-and-seizures, electronic surveillance and cyber crime law.
Rexroad handled many high-profile cases, such as the 2004 trial of Tjane C. Marshall, then 28, of Suitland, who was convicted of fatally shooting Shameka Fludd, a Columbia woman who was pregnant with his child. Marshall was sentenced to life in prison.
Rexroad said cases like Fludd's leave a lasting impression.
"Murder cases take an emotional and intellectual commitment, and it doesn't get any easier" with experience, he said.
"The reward is ... . when the family feels a sense of justice," he said. "You can't replace that loss, but they feel justice [was done]."
Louis P. Willemin, deputy public defender for Howard and Carroll counties, joked during the mock hearing that Rexroad's retirement is bittersweet for him because he will no longer be getting Rexroad's numerous phone calls about cases each day.
After judges and attorneys had recounted memorable moments in his career, Rexroad thanked them as he addressed the court.
"This is the most touching day I've ever had," he said.