Judge Solomon Baylor, a retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge who earlier had served on the District Court, died Saturday of complications from pneumonia at Oak Crest Village. He was 85.
"He was my buddy and my mentor over the years. He was a mentor to a lot of young lawyers and was the kind of guy you could go to for real good advice," said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
"He was also very dedicated to the rule of law, and you couldn't sneak anything by him; and if you tried, he didn't hesitate to speak out. He was a strong, character-driven individual," he said.
Stuart O. Simms, former Baltimore state's attorney, described Judge Baylor as an "extraordinarily effective leader whose major asset was his integrity."
"He always offered me wise counsel, and when I appeared before him as an attorney, I always found him to be fair and cordial. And he let litigants know they were doing the right and principled thing," Mr. Simms said.
"He was one of my heroes," said Baltimore Circuit Judge David W. Young. "He was quiet, gentle and a gentleman in every respect. He showed every single person respectfulness regardless of their status or station in life, and never raised his voice, even in criminal cases when he was sentencing people to jail." He added, "Judge Baylor was a role model and example for all judges in the way he treated people. He couldn't stand injustice or mistreatment, and was a champion of the underdog."
In 1985, Judge Baylor approached Judge Young about applying for a vacancy on the bench.
"He told me, 'I've been watching you, and you'd be a good addition to the District Court,'" said Judge Young, who served on the District Court from 1985 to 1995, when he joined the Circuit Court.
"He gave me some additional advice: 'You have to be compassionate, intelligent and have insightfulness, and you need to have a sense of fairness and justice about you.' You can only imagine what an ego-booster that was," he said.
Helping advance the professional careers of black lawyers was a cornerstone of Judge Baylor's career.
Judge Marcella A. Holland got to know Judge Baylor when she was a law student at the University of Maryland.
"He took an interest in black law students and would come to the law school and participate in various panels," Judge Holland recalled.
"In recent years and up in age, Judge Baylor would still come to the courthouse to see me on the bench. It did him so much good to see black women judges, and he was always very supportive of us," she said.
Judge Baylor was born in King William County, Va., the son of a construction laborer and homemaker, and moved with his parents to Baltimore in 1924. He was raised near Biddle Street and Park Avenue, and graduated in 1941 from Douglass High School.
During World War II, he served with the Quartermaster Corps in Europe, and after the war, he enrolled on the GI Bill at what was then Coppin State Teachers College. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1951 and was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1953.
He maintained a general law practice, first in his McKean Avenue home and later at an office in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Ave.
"He was a little guy who made it. He started from scratch and had no help. He went from that second-floor office on Pennsylvania Avenue to a judgeship," said retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward. "He was very popular and a man of the people."
In 1963, he was named assistant city solicitor, and from 1968 to 1970 was a member of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.
In 1970, Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed him to the District Court, and seven years later, then-acting Gov. Blair E. Lee III appointed him to Baltimore Circuit Court, where he remained until retiring in 1986.
His professional memberships included the Monumental City Bar Association, where he was the organization's historian.
Throughout his life, Judge Baylor had been an outspoken advocate for civil rights and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as president of the Baltimore chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality.
He participated in local sit-ins and had demonstrated at Gwynn Oak amusement park in July 1963.
"He also took us to hear Martin Luther King speak at a church in Baltimore, and he participated in the March on Washington in 1963," said his daughter, Michelle J. Baylor Caldwell of Woodlawn. "He returned for the 20th anniversary march."
Judge Baylor made headlines in 1969 when he objected to being described by a clerk in the Baltimore Marriage Bureau as "colored" when he applied for a marriage license.
"If a racial designation had to be made, Mr. Baylor said he preferred to be listed as 'black.' The bureau clerk refused to accept the application, but Judge James A. Perrott signed an order reversing it," reported The Sun at the time.
He had been a member of Metro Democrats Inc., a West Baltimore political club that had been established by William L. "Little Willie" Adams, and was a former board member of the Lafayette Square Community Association.
Judge Baylor, who lived in Northwood for 30 years before moving to the Parkville retirement community in 2002, enjoyed writing poetry, singing and playing his harmonica.
Judge Baylor was a member for 69 years of Enon Baptist Church, 601 N. Schroeder St., where services will be held at noon tomorrow. .
Also surviving are his wife of 38 years, the former Ernestine Walker, a retired Morgan State University history professor; three grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. His son, Michael J. Baylor, died in 2003. An earlier marriage to the former Thelma Robinson ended in divorce.