James F. Schneider, former chief bankruptcy judge and legal historian, dies

Judge James Schneider wrote a history of the Maryland State Bar Association.
Judge James Schneider wrote a history of the Maryland State Bar Association.

James F. Schneider, a former federal bankruptcy chief judge for the District of Maryland and a respected legal historian, died of a bone infection Monday at his Homeland residence. He was 72.

“Jim was an incredible individual,” said retired chief U.S. District Judge Frederic “Fred” Smalkin. “He had a memory in his heart. He remembered what ought to be kept alive, things about Maryland history that are not taught in law school. He was a teacher at heart, and his law clerks were his beneficiaries.”


Born in Baltimore and raised in Parkville, he was the son of Joseph F. Schneider, a postal supervisor, and Mary Christine “May” Lepper, a homemaker. He was president of his 1965 class at Parkville High School. He earned a degree in history at the University of Baltimore and was first academically in his class. He received a law degree from the same school in 1972, the year he was admitted to the Maryland Bar.

Judge Schneider had a lifelong passion for history and revered President John F. Kennedy, whose hand he shook at the old Towson Plaza shopping center in September 1960. He watched President Kennedy land in a helicopter in Patterson Park in 1962 and mourned him in Washington, D.C., after the president’s assassination.


He met his future wife, Susan M. Marzetta, at the federal court house.

“He was handsome, outgoing and funny,” she said. “I called him to make a date when he returned to Baltimore after a judicial conference. We were married within a year.”

As a law school student he was a clerk to Judge Albert L. Sklar of the old Supreme Bench of Baltimore City. From 1973 to 1978 he served as assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore City.

He was appointed historian and archivist by the Supreme Bench, now the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, in 1977. From 1978 to 1982, he served as equity master to the Supreme Bench.

He was elevated to a judgeship and became an associate judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court in 1982, when he was 34. He served as its chief judge from 2001 to 2005. He retired in 2017 and was recalled to assist the court.

“He was a wise and fair judge,” said attorney Herbert Better. “He was a gentleman. Even when he lost his temper on the bench, he was perfectly calm.”

Judge Nancy V. Alquist said, "Jim had an incredibly curious mind and cared deeply about court employees. He often visited their offices and got to know the clerks personally.”

In October 1984, he co-founded the Museum of Baltimore Legal History with attorney Philip Sherman.

“With the enthusiasm of a schoolboy, James F. Schneider walks the halls of the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse, marveling at the stained-glass skylights, the craftsmanship of the marble stairways and the striking, larger-than-life murals painted by internationally known artists at the turn of the century,” said a 1997 Sun article.

Judge Schneider was quoted in the article: ‘This place is a treasure,’” he said.

Former Maryland State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse said, “I’ve never known anyone with such a positive outlook on life. He had a facility for making friends. He was an honorable and generous human being.”

Dr. Papenfuse also said, “He never sugarcoated history and had a way of telling things the way they were.”


In 1986, he was named Alumnus of the Year by the School of Liberal Arts of the University of Baltimore.

His wife said that Judge Schneider overcame numerous health challenges. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1964 and received two transplants. He received a pancreas transplant and in 2010 he received a new kidney from his wife. He was also also diagnosed with squamous cell cancer.

“Jim had incredible courage,” said Dr. Stephen T. Bartlett, chief medical officer and vice president at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Illinois, "I have used him as a case study about pancreas transplants. He came to me years ago and told me of his diabetes and how his low blood sugar was making its difficult for him to concentrate during complex bankruptcy proceedings.

“He had the transplant and wound up being named chief judge," said Dr. Bartlett.

Among the books that Judge Schneider wrote is “A Century of Striving for Justice: A Centennial History of the Maryland State Bar Association, 1896‑1996.” He also wrote works on his church and the Library Company for Baltimore.

“Jim’s interests were endless,” said attorney Henry Lord. “He was also a significant force behind the preservation of the Bar Library.”

Since 1978 he was a member and historian of First & Franklin Presbyterian Church.

“He loved the church and spent years researching its stained-glass windows, not just the windows, but who the makers were, the donors who had given them,” said a church member, Kenneth F. Davies, an attorney.

Judge Schneider was a fan of 1920s through 1940s music and could recite performance dates and band personnel from memory.

A memorial service will be webcast at 10 a.m. Wednesday from the First & Franklin Presbyterian Church at facebook.com/firstfranklinbaltimore. A life celebration will be held in the future.

In addition to his wife of 32 years, general magistrate for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, survivors include two daughters, Laura Elaine Schneider of Austin, Texas, and Caroline May Schneider of Baltimore.

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