Alexander Lacy Cummings

The Baltimore Sun

Alexander Lacy Cummings, former longtime clerk of the Maryland Court of Appeals who retired last month because of illness, died Tuesday of prostate cancer at his Towson home. He was 66.

Before Mr. Cummings became the 25th clerk of the Court of Appeals in 1983, he had served in the Maryland attorney general's office, which he joined in 1971, as an assistant attorney general.

As chief deputy of the criminal appeals and correctional litigation division, Mr. Cummings argued between 700 and 800 criminal appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Maryland Court of Appeals and the state's Court of Special Appeals.

Judge Robert M. Bell, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, said Mr. Cummings was "extremely important in helping the court fulfill its role." Mr. Cummings "performed his duties with a great deal of pride," he said, adding, "He did everything he could to make our jobs easier.

"He made sure that people who came to the court were able to get what they needed and without a whole lot of hassle," he said. "All of us are going to miss him terribly."

Mr. Cummings was born in Baltimore and raised on Oakenshawe Place. He was a 1960 graduate of Loyola High School and earned his bachelor's degree from Loyola College in 1964.

After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1968, he joined the law firm of Lord, Whip, Coughlan & Green, practicing insurance defense and medical malpractice.

In late February, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler wrote to Mr. Cummings informing him that an award had been established in recognizing his years of service.

"It gives me great pleasure to inform you that I have established a new Office of the Attorney General award in your honor: The Alexander Cummings Award for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy," Mr. Gansler wrote.

"In conversations with some of the longer-serving Assistant Attorneys General, I have heard of the high regard in which everyone held your skills as an appellate advocate," Mr. Gansler wrote.

"The award reflects not only this Office's gratitude for your outstanding service as an Assistant Attorney General, but also our gratitude for the invaluable guidance you have provided countless Assistant Attorneys General who have appeared before the Court over the years," he wrote.

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. praised Mr. Cummings' efficiency.

"I first met Alex when I was a lawyer and he was an assistant attorney general. ... Lawyers who had cases in court over the years appreciated working with him because he ran the court very smoothly," he said. "He brought both professionalism and civility and was a shining example as a practitioner of the law."

From his fourth-floor office in the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis, Mr. Cummings wore "many hats," said a 2005 profile in the University of Baltimore Law Forum.

In addition to supervising a staff of nine, Mr. Cummings "acts as the liaison between the Court and the legal community and the public in the primary function of receiving and filing petitions, briefs and other papers filed in the Court," said the profile.

He also oversaw the docket, organized the scheduling of arguments before the court and issuing of its opinions, and was official custodian of its decisions.

"While the Judges of the Court exercise broad supervisory power over the work of the Clerk, the day-to-day operation of the Clerk's Office is left to the expertise and experience of Mr. Cummings," said the Law Forum profile.

Mr. Cummings also scheduled and supervised the admission of more than 1,500 lawyers annually to the practice of law in the state.

Despite his illness, Mr. Cummings continued coming to his office when he was able to. He retired March 31, and was succeeded the next day by Bessie M. Decker, who had been his chief deputy since 1999.

"We worked together for 24 years and he was perfect for the job. He was well-liked in the legal community and was always helpful to attorneys and the public," said Mrs. Decker, who had been acting clerk for most of last year.

"He was a boss who wanted you to strive to do your best and because we knew he was a perfectionist, we knew what he wanted. However, he let you do your job, and we considered him not a boss but a good friend," she said.

Judge Murphy said that Mrs. Decker's appointment is historic.

"She is the first woman in the state's history to become clerk of the court and Alex was very supportive of her advancement. He pushed and mentored her," Judge Murphy said.

Mr. Cummings enjoyed playing tennis and walking. He was a member of the Roland Run Club.

He was an avid reader and was particularly interested in religious and spiritual literature.

"He was a man of great spiritual belief, integrity and character," said his wife of 42 years, the former Barbara Hubbard.

Mr. Cummings was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson.

A Mass of Christian burial for Mr. Cummings will be private.

Also surviving are two sons, Daniel L. Cummings of Phoenix, Baltimore County, and David A. Cummings of Baltimore; two daughters, Maria C. Jackson of Cockeysville and Patricia A. Cummings of Towson; a brother, John Cummings of Richmond, Va.; three sisters, Lacy Gentry, Frances Sweeney and Camilla Meiser, all of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

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