Jeffrey L. Darsie, assistant attorney general for Maryland and counsel to the state Board of Elections, dies

Jeffrey L. Darsie, an assistant attorney general for Maryland who was also counsel to the state Board of Elections, died April 5 from lung cancer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Bolton Hill resident was 56.

“Jeff was one of the deepest and most nimble thinkers I’ve ever come across,” said John B. “J.B.” Howard Jr., a special assistant attorney general for Maryland and a longtime friend.

“He brought a great deal to his work. He was steeped in literature and the humanities and understood the human condition,” said Mr. Howard, a Roland Park resident who became friends with Mr. Darsie when both were students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“He was an historian of constitutional law and brought a very humane aspect and broad knowledge to his practice of law,” he said.

Jeffrey Lewis Darsie, the son of John C. Darsie Jr., general counsel for the University of Kentucky, and his wife, Jenny Darsie, a homemaker, was born and raised in Lexington, Ky.

Mr. Darsie was a 1981 graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., where he graduated near the top of his class and was the recipient of the faculty prize in history.

“He stood out at Exeter, an elite boarding school full of overachievers, for his searing intelligence, his true delight in learning, and his playful, luminous irresistible charm, all qualities that he exhibited throughout his life,” Mr. Howard wrote in a biographical profile of Mr. Darsie.

He graduated in 1985 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree with honors in English.

After earning his law degree in 1991 from the University of Michigan Law School, he began his legal career in the honors program at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mr. Darsie worked as a solo practitioner and consultant in Lexington before moving to Baltimore in 2005.

Three years later, he joined the Maryland attorney general’s office, where he was assigned to its Opinions and Advice Unit, to work on the formal published opinions of the attorney general and advising his colleagues “on the most complex legal questions in state government,” wrote Mr. Howard.

Mr. Darsie also served as special counsel to the state Board of Elections, “guiding it through the evolution in the campaign-finance law that followed the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United case,” Mr. Howard wrote.

“Jeff was a brilliant lawyer. He managed complex, challenging cases as well as clients with complex issues,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “He did it with skill, diplomacy and good humor.”

Mr. Darsie retired April 1 on disability and died four days later.

“A transplanted son of Kentucky, Jeff spoke slowly in a register that was low and chesty,” Mr. Howard wrote. “His deep-set blue eyes and boyish wheat-blond hair gave him a generally languid air that at times belied his extraordinary talent.”

Mr. Howard described Mr. Darsie as a person who was always generous with his time and a patient listener who was “eager to hear ideas contrary to his own.”

An inveterate reader who was known by friends and colleagues for his book recommendations, Mr. Darsie had a particular interest in World War II history and had “read virtually everything written by and about Winston Churchill,” Mr. Howard wrote.

While a student at Chapel Hill, Mr. Darsie began writing and continued to do so as he practiced law. At his death, he had left behind two unpublished novels, numerous short stories, and various notebooks and journals in which he recorded his musings on life, observations and ideas for novels.

“In every phase of his life, Jeff’s blazing intelligence, inimitable sense of humor, and fundamental kindness and decency attracted people to him,” Mr. Howard wrote in an email. “The waters ran deep with Jeff. He was as good and loyal a friend anyone could ever hope to have.”

A memorial service for Mr. Darsie will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 in the parish hall of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., Baltimore.

He is survived by his mother, Jenny Darsie of Lexington, Ky.; his stepmother, Gay Darsie of Boca Grande, Fla.; and an aunt, uncle and nephew.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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