Byron L. Warnken, who taught law at the University of Baltimore School of Law for more than four decades and was an oft-sought media legal authority, died of a neurodegenerative disease Monday at his Owings Mills home. He was 76.
“Byron was truly an outstanding citizen,” said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now president of the University of Baltimore. “It’s hard to say if you’ve ever been to law school that you love your professors, but Byron was wellloved. He was known as ‘Mr. U.B.’ and exhibited a great spirit for this university.”
Ronald Weich has been dean of UBalt’s law school since 2012.
“It’s a sad day,” Dean Weich said. “Byron was incredibly enthusiastic. He loved his work. He loved his students, and he loved this law school and always gave 110% to his students. He was proud of this law school’s prominence and helped make the University of Baltimore what it is today, and was at the center of everything that happened here at the law school.”
Margaret Mead is a retired lawyer who studied with Professor Warnken.
“It’s one of the greatest tragedies for the legal community in Maryland that Byron has passed, but his legacy will live on in his students,” she said.
Judge David L. Moore, a semiretired administrative law judge, became acquainted with Professor Warnken when they attended law school together at the University of Baltimore.
“Byron had the ability to reduce complicated legal concepts to the essence, so much so that even the dullest bulb in the classroom could understand it, and that’s what endeared him to his students,” Judge Moore said.
Byron Leslie Warnken, son of V. Renee Warnken, an interior decorator and homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Carney.
It was a sixth grade teacher who urged Mr. Warnken to take a scholarship test for McDonogh School. Earning the scholarship afforded him the opportunity to escape from his Dickensian childhood.
“His father was an abusive alcoholic and McDonogh, where he was a boarder, became a safe haven for him and helped launch him into the world,” said his son, Byron B. Warnken of Pikesville, who is a principal in the law firm of Warnken LLC.
At McDonogh, Professor Warnken was an award-winning orator, edited the school newspaper and had leading roles in plays.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 in English with a minor in history from the Johns Hopkins University. After his dream of being a high school English teacher was foiled by his 1-A draft status, he took a job selling cookware.
That year, he met the former Bonnie Lee Angevine, a registered nurse, on the job selling her cookware. Four days after their first date, he received his draft notice and was sent by the Army to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training.
After marrying Ms. Angevine in 1969, Professor Warnken was deployed to Würzburg, Germany, where he was stationed at 3rd Infantry Division headquarters as a clerk-typist, and later became sports director of the American Youth Activities, which provided activities for military dependents.
Discharged in 1972, he attended the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he made law review. He later switched to evening law school, which enabled him to work during the day. He held a law clerk’s position with a law firm that handled property matters, and later became a clerk to Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Basil A. Thomas.
In 1977, Professor Warnken was a cum laude law school graduate and became the school’s third law school graduate to be selected for the Internal Revenue Service Chief Counsel’s Honors Program in Washington.
He began his legal career in Washington in 1977 practicing tax law, while teaching legal analysis and research and writing at UBalt as an adjunct professor. The experience made him realize he had a gift and love of teaching. The next year, he joined the faculty full time and was tenured in 1982, teaching primarily criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure.
G. Adam Ruther, who was a member of the law school Class of 2008, recalled Professor Warnken as “formidable and a force of nature.”
“His style, which began first semester, was shock and awe, and very effective. But he was the best friend you could have as a law student. He was a generous mentor who had so much energy and knowledge, and he wanted to share it with you so you could do your job as a lawyer,” said Mr. Ruther, who has been in private practice since 2015. “He was just infectious in the classroom. He made you want to explore cases and rise to his level.”
Professor Warnken had a penchant for remembering cases that Mr. Ruther said was “simply staggering.”
“He had a prodigious memory,” Judge Moore recalled. “He could be approached by a student he had five or 11 years ago and after hearing their name would say, ‘Oh, yes, you sat in the third seat in the fifth row.’ He was just that kind of guy.”
“If he didn’t know something, which was extremely rare, he’d find out and come back at you with a 10-page dissertation,” Ms. Mead said, with a laugh.
“The thing about Byron was whether you liked the class or didn’t, he was there to teach the law and it just wasn’t in class,” Ms. Mead said. “He was invested in each student and cared deeply. He made sure that when you left UB, you knew the law and were ethical.”
Professor Warnken worked diligently at broadening the law school’s student base.
“He worked tirelessly at bringing Black and minority students to the University of Baltimore, and the Black law associations gave him many awards,” Judge Moore said.
When it came time for his students to launch their professional careers, Professor Warnken became their greatest advocate, and shared an eagerness to pick up the phone and recommend a student to a law firm or for a judge clerkship.
When he applied for a position as a young lawyer, he was rebuffed in his effort.
“He was told he had no special connections, so he became the special connection for those who had no special connection group,” his son said. “And when he’d tell that story, his eyes would well up.”
For 33 years at the school, he was director of the Judicial Internship Program and the Judicial EXPLOR Program that placed more than 3,000 law students with judges. He was also the faculty adviser of UBalt’s Moot Court Board, which managed 19 interschool appellate advocacy teams that argue against other law schools across the county.
He was also the author of the three-volume “Maryland’s Criminal Procedure,” and was co-author with Mr. Ruther of the second edition.
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In addition to his busy academic life, Professor Warnken launched Warnken LLC in 1992, which represented the Maryland Troopers Association of 19 years, and handled criminal law and criminal cases. He was also a familiar legal resource to the media, and for decades was quoted in the press, seen on TV and heard on radio.
Professor Warnken retired in 2018. In recognition of his devotion to the school, the university’s central gathering space was named the Byron L. Warnken Moot Courtroom.
“I love the law. I love ethics. I love learning. ... I have felt privileged to practice my avocation and my vocation in many courtrooms and venues, including the Supreme Court of the United States ... but the place I have loved most is in the classroom, and with all of the people in the University of Baltimore Law School,” he told Baltimore Law at the time of his retirement.
“His example for the entirety of my life filled me with a deep and urgent responsibility to be in service to others,” said his daughter, Heather B. Warnken, of Washington, who is a lawyer and executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at UBalt’s School of Law.
Professor Warnken was an avid Orioles and Ravens fan, and enjoyed smoking fine cigars.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at the University of Baltimore Law School in the Byron L. Warnken Moot Courtroom, 1420 N. Charles St.
In addition to his two children, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, who later became a lawyer and was a U of B. graduate; and four grandchildren.