David Ross, a former attorney and Baltimore City circuit judge remembered for his significant contributions to the state court’s procedural rulebook and no-nonsense courtroom demeanor, died May 2 at the Edenwald Retirement Community from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. The Towson resident was 90.
Judge Ross, appointed by Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew to serve on the Baltimore City Supreme Bench — which ultimately became the Baltimore City Circuit Court — served full time for nearly 30 years. He is also credited for creating and maintaining affirmative-action policies for the court’s administration.
Born in Washington, D.C., he graduated from Petersburg High School in Virginia as class president and valedictorian in 1946. He then served in the United States Marine Corps until 1948.
He enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park and then attended University of Maryland School of Law, from which he graduated with honors and as a member in the Order of the Coif, the national legal honorary society.
As he completed his education, he married Phyllis Cheek, with whom he spent 67 years.
“Everyone says he was just the perfect gentleman,” Mrs. Ross said. “He was kind and humble and just so caring.”
The couple spent over 40 years in the same house in North Roland Park before moving to Towson.
Judge Ross became a partner in the law firm of Ober, Williams, Grimes & Stinson (later Ober, Williams & Grimes) in 1960. As an attorney, he specialized in probate, trust, corporate and business law. He did so until 1968, when he was sworn in as an associate judge on the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City.
As a judge, he became chair of the Court of Appeals’ Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedures and later became the first chair of the Conference of Circuit Court Judges.
Colleagues said Judge Ross became a mentor and unifier among the judges on the bench.
“He was very well respected — he was a person who came to the bench at a young age with terrific legal skills,” said retired Baltimore City Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Ferrall Friedman. “He was a judge’s judge, a person who was not only learned in the law but handled cases without bias.”
Another colleague on the Circuit Court bench, retired Judge Ellen Heller, said everyone felt comfortable turning to Judge Ross for guidance in all matters, not simply those related to the law.
“He was one of the most respected judges in the state of Maryland,” she said. “Everyone knew he was fair, everyone knew he was firm and everyone knew he was committed to justice and fairness, and that’s very important these days.”
Judge Heller said Judge Ross’ experience as a Marine helped him run an extremely punctual and organized courtroom. She said the only people who likely did not appreciate this characteristic were the attorneys he overruled.
“You knew he’d be prepared and be on time and he would understand the most complex issues of law,” she said. “He was a stickler for Maryland rules and procedure — he played the game by the rules and conducted his courtroom like a tight ship.”
He retired as a full-time judge in 1996 after 28 years. He continued to serve in a part-time manner as a sitting judge for several years after that.
Judge Ross was also active in his church community, teaching Sunday school lessons to second-graders and serving as an elder at Faith Presbyterian Church in the Woodbourne Heights community.
He later became elder at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, now merged with Govans Presbyterian Church. He served as one of the members of the session, the church’s governing body.
Jonathan Oglesby met Judge Ross nearly 20 years ago. The former Brown Memorial Woodbrook pastor said Judge Ross felt like a father figure to him.
“I think the world of him — he was thoroughly consistent in his faith,” Mr. Oglesby said. “He was such an authentic person, and that was true in church and in everything.”
A memorial service will be held at noon Tuesday at The Edenwald Retirement Community, 800 Southerly Road, Towson.
In addition to his wife, Judge Ross is survived by two children, David Ross V of Issaquah, Wash., and Margo Ross of Santa Cruz, Calif.; and four granddaughters.