J. William Hinkel, a former member of the House of Delegates and a retired Baltimore County Circuit Court judge who was the first administrative judge of the Baltimore County District Court when it was established in 1971, died Monday of cancer at a hospital in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The former Towson resident had lived in Myrtle Beach for the past five years and was 77.

John William Hinkel was born and raised in East Baltimore.

He was a 1950 graduate of City College and earned an associate's degree from the University of Baltimore in 1956. He was a summa cum laude graduate in 1959 of the University of Baltimore School of Law. After entering the Maryland bar in 1959, he practiced law part time while working as an insurance claims adjustor.

In 1961, he and Herbert E. Hohenberger established a law practice in Parkville.

Judge Hinkel, a Democrat, was elected in 1966 to the House of Delegates from Baltimore County's 4th District, and in 1970 was appointed people's counsel to the state Public Service Commission by Gov. Marvin Mandel.

"We were both good friends when we served in the legislature," said Paul Alpert, a retired Court of Specials Appeals judge, who had been on both the Circuit Court and District Court during Judge Hinkel's tenure.

"It was very apparent he had a lot of leadership abilities and great skills organizing people," he said. "He rose quickly in the legislature and was chairman of the Baltimore County delegation in 1967."

In 1971, Governor Mandel appointed him to the Baltimore County District Court, and he served as the court's administrative judge until 1975, when he resigned the position to become a full-time trial judge.

Judge Hinkel remained on the District Court bench until 1981, when Gov. Harry R. Hughes named him to the Baltimore County Circuit Court, where he served until stepping down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, in 2002.

"He was the consummate gentleman, so smart, and did a fantastic job," said longtime friend and retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II.

"Bill ran a tight ship and was extraordinarily fair, but make no doubt about it, it was a tight ship," he said.

Judge John Grayson Turnbull Jr., administrative judge for the Baltimore County Circuit Court and a former colleague, called Judge Hinkel "an outstanding jurist who was looked up to by all the other judges and lawyers."Judge Hinkel was on the bench at 9 a.m. sharp every day.

"He never used a gavel, raised his voice or lost control of his courtroom," said his wife of 29 years, the former Carole Forbes. "Lawyers and their clients always said they felt they had gotten a fair shake in his court."

Several weeks before he died, he received a letter from a young woman who had killed a man in 2001 while driving under the influence. While in prison, she had joined Alcoholics Anonymous and volunteered in a substance abuse counseling center.

She wanted Judge Hinkel to know that she graduated from college, and in August, she'd be celebrating seven years of sobriety and the end of her probation. She had made peace with the family of the man whose life she had taken.

She said she planned to attend graduate school to become a professional counselor to work with families affected by substance abuse.

"My reason for contacting you is to thank you and let you know how grateful I am that you took a chance on a young girl like me," wrote the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Baltimore Sun to protect her identity.

Judge Hinkel was a member of Trinity Assembly of God, 2122 W. Joppa Road, Lutherville, where a memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 8.

Also surviving are a son, Stephen Hinkel of Towson; two daughters, Laura Bender of the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County and Jean Gleeves of Birmingham, England; a sister, Alice Maddrix of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; and three grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

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