Judge S. Ann Brobst, longtime Baltimore County prosecutor

Ann Brobst was sworn in as Baltimore County Circuit Court judge in 2009.
(KENNETH K. LAM, Baltimore Sun)

Judge S. Ann Brobst, who during her three-decade career as an assistant state's attorney earned a reputation for being a tough but fair prosecutor that led to her to appointment in 2009 to the Baltimore County Circuit Court, died Monday evening of pancreatic cancer at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.

She was 59 and lived in Towson.

Judge Brobst was "a tireless advocate for justice. She was adamant about evidence being properly presented to the court and that the right person was charged," said District Judge Leo Ryan, who had worked with Judge Brobst in the state's attorney's office. "And for the last 20 years, she played a significant role in murder cases in Baltimore County. They were some of the most difficult cases in the county, if not the state of Maryland."

During her tenure as a prosecutor, Judge Brobst had numerous high-profile cases, some of which included the death by beating and starvation of 9-year-old Rita Fisher in 1997 and the murder of Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero while he was moonlighting as a security guard at a Pikesville jewelry store in 2000. She also prosecuted Nicholas W. Browning, the 15-year-old Dulaney High School student who killed his sleeping father, mother and two brothers in 2008 and was sentenced to four life terms.

She also was known for having twice gained successful convictions against Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, a former Eastern Shore waterman, for the 1984 rape and murder of Dawn Venice Hamilton, a 9-year-old Rosedale resident. But Mr. Bloodsworth was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.

"She grew up on my watch when she was trying cases in District Court. That is where I first met her. She was an excellent trial attorney and handled many major cases," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II. "She was absolutely wonderful and effervescent, and all of us in the courthouse are just struck by the tragedy of her early death."

Judge John Grason Turnbull II, administrative judge for Baltimore County Circuit Court, had known Judge Brobst since the days when he was a trial lawyer and had cases against her.

"She was an excellent trial lawyer and was always prepared, and she brought this to the bench," said Judge Turnbull. "As a judge, she would listen to both sides and would then come to a conclusion that was right under the law. She was always fair and believed in doing the right thing."

"I am so sad. It is truly a tragedy. I've never known anyone who more enjoyed or excelled at this job than Ann Brobst," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox.

"And through all she has been through this last year, she still came to work because she loved the job," said Judge Cox. "She loved being in a courtroom listening to the stories and then deciding how to handle them."

The daughter of a Farmers' Cooperative agricultural salesman and a homemaker, Shirley Ann Brobst was born in Norristown, Pa., and raised in Frederick, where she graduated from Thomas Johnson High School.

Judge Brobst earned her bachelor's degree with honors in 1975 from Pennsylvania State University and was a 1978 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law. She was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1979.

From 1979 until 2009, when she was appointed by Gov. Martin J. O'Malley to the Baltimore County Circuit Court to fill the seat of Judge John O. Hennegan, she was an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore County.

"She could take the most complex, convoluted cases in the state's attorney's office with a mess of facts and law and put them in order so they could make a case for a jury. This is an ability not possessed by many people," recalled Judge Fader.

In the case of Mr. Bloodsworth, who spent nearly a decade in prison — including several years on death row — a new DNA test, PCR DNA, proved DNA that had been found was not his, leading to his exoneration in 1993.

"I wished it had never happened," Judge Brobst said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun at the time of her appointment to the bench in 2009. "I would never try a case as a prosecutor that I didn't believe the individual was guilty."

She said the testimony against him at both trials was "absolutely damning."

After his second conviction, Mr. Bloodsworth hired a new attorney and asked Judge Brobst if the state would possibly consider releasing its physical evidence in order for it to be tested independently for DNA.

She was under tremendous pressure from her colleagues not to do so. "It was unheard of to actually release evidence in a criminal case to a defense attorney," she explained.

The test that was conducted by Forensic Science Associates, a California laboratory, conclusively proved that the biological evidence did not belong to Mr. Bloodsworth and that he was not the murderer. He was eventually freed from prison and paid $300,000 in compensation.

A decade later, Judge Brobst visited Mr. Bloodsworth at his Eastern Shore home and apologized.

"He served years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. And that's wrong, but it made me a better prosecutor then, and it's going to make me a better judge now because, of all people, I am mindful of how serious a business this is and how greatly it impacts lives," she said in the interview.

"Anybody who saw Ann try a case would come away and understand her deep sense of justice. She was a strong victim advocate and never lost sight of the people she was representing. And she carried this sense of public service onto the bench," said Stephen Bailey, a Towson lawyer and longtime friend.

"The only thing she wanted was to become a judge one day, and I remember how excited she was when she called me to tell me that Martin had appointed her to the bench," said Judge Fader. "She loved life and loved being a judge."

Judge Cox said she "always tried to do the right thing in her courtroom and she did it with poise and dignity."

Judge Turnbull said that she had worked up until about 21/2 weeks ago. "Courage. That's what Ann had. Courage. I urged her to take some time off because of her illness and she wouldn't do it," he said.

In her spare time, Judge Brobst enjoyed reading and gardening.

Judge Brobst's family will receive friends from 3 p.m to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

Judge Brobst was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

She is survived by a son, Robert Richardson "Rick" Bowie III of Towson; and a daughter, Alice Chapman Bowie of Washington. Her marriage to Robert Richardson Bowie II ended in divorce.