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Former Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II, who also was a farmer, dies

Former Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II, who also was a farmer, dies
Judge John Turnbull brought produce he had grown on his farm to the courthouse and gave it away. (HANDOUT)

Former Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II, who later became an administrative judge for the Third Judicial Circuit, and was a farmer, died Tuesday from cancer at Gilchrist Center Towson.

The Sparks resident was 75.

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Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., former judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, was a longtime colleague and friend of Judge Turnbull’s.

“He made it look easy, but it isn’t, and that fits Johnny perfectly,” Judge Murphy said. “He was liked and respected by colleagues around the state and he handled that job so well. Because he had had a distinguished career as a lawyer, he never forgot what it was like being on the other side of the bench.”

“I have a strong affection for him, and we have lost a true legal titan in John Turnbull,” said Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr.

“He was a friend and mentor to many lawyers and and judges in the county and across the state. He was incisive, decisive and intuitive as a judge; a prodigious worker; and invariably fair,” he said. “We will miss him terribly.”

Retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr., who retired in 2011, was also a colleague and friend.

“As a jurist, and you could ask any lawyer, and they’d say how easygoing he was, because he had been a lawyer for a long time,” Judge Bollinger said. “He was a lawyer’s judge and they looked forward to going to his court.”

John Grason Turnbull II, who was literally born into the law, was the son of Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull and Esther DeArman, a homemaker. He was born in Baltimore and raised at Black Acre, the family farm on Belfast Road, in Sparks.

A 1961 McDonogh School graduate, he earned an associate’s degree in 1963 from the University of Baltimore and his law degree in 1966 from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

From 1967 to 1969, he served in the Army Special Forces Airborne as a Green Beret, attaining the rank of lieutenant.

Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1969, he began practicing law in Towson, and from 1969 to 1971 was magistrate-at-large.

In 1986, Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed him to the Baltimore County Circuit Court to fill the vacancy when Chief Judge John E. Raine Jr., for whom he had clerked while in law school from 1963 to 1966, retired.

“John and I got back so many years,” said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II. “I can still see him waving at me from across the street in the 1970s.

“As a judge, he was the first to arrive at the courthouse at 7 a.m., and he’d meet with lawyers and then he’d do his job,” Judge Fader said.

“John was even-tempered and had a just temperament. He understood people, lawyers and how the judicial system worked and how it worked for the people of Maryland,” he said.

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“Johnny was a flinty guy. he had been a Green Beret,” Judge Cahill recalled. “He was short on words but long on decisions. I adored him. He set a great tone for our court.”

From 1992 to 2001, Judge Turnbull served as Baltimore County administrative judge. In 2001, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals appointed him to replace Judge Edward A. DeWaters who had retired as circuit administrative judge.

Judge Turnbull was also responsible for the Third Judicial Circuit, which included Harford County.

“Turnbull is known for the efficiency with which he runs his courtroom,” reported The Daily Record at the time. “He can move a docket,” attorney C. Carey Deeley Jr., who is now a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge, told the newspaper.

“If you look around the state, and frankly there are many administrative judges with a lot of talent, but when the conversation begins about administrative judges, it begins with Johnny, “ said Judge Murphy, who now practices law with the Towson law firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White LLC.

“As an administrative judge, he ran a very efficient system,” Judge Bollinger said. “And while he was doing that, he was a full-time judge with a full docket.”

“John prided himself on moving things along and getting cases to trial,” Judge Fader said. “He prided himself on giving people justice and their day in court.”

In 2013, after Judge Turnbull retired and was replaced by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen Gallogly Cox, he continued working as a settlement court judge.

Judge Turnbull’s legal enthusiasm spilled over into his private life as a farmer at Black Meadows, his 100--acre farm in Sparks, where plowed and planted fields of corn, soybeans, and other vegetables.

“Quaint legal terms, ‘black acre,’ ‘white acre,’ and ‘green acre’ were once used to describe certain tracts of land,” according to a 1973 profile in The Sunday Sun Magazine of Judge Turnbull and his wife, the former Anne Hottel.

“He’d bring his vegetables into the courthouse and give them away. He was such a generous guy, “ Mrs. Turnbull said. “He had three tractors which I called Papa, Mama and Baby.”

Judge Turnbull also enjoyed playing golf at the Baltimore Country Club, where he was a member. He was also a longtime member of the Maryland Club.

He liked to travel, with his favorite destination being Bermuda, his wife said.

Judge Turnbull was a communicant for many years and a vestryman and treasurer of Immanuel Episcopal Church in Glencoe.

Funeral services will be held at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

In addition to his wife of 49 years, Judge Turnbull is survived by two daughters, Katherine Turnbull Kohnle of Monkton and Jennifer McQuaid of Hampstead; and three grandchildren.

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