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Joseph N. Ingolia, former chief administrative law judge for the U.S. Coast Guard, dies

Joseph Nicholas Ingolia served as the chief administrative law judge for the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 13 years.
Joseph Nicholas Ingolia served as the chief administrative law judge for the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 13 years. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Joseph Nicholas Ingolia loved all things Baltimore — a passion that was demonstrated by his loyalty for the city’s professional sports franchises.

For more than 40 years, he and his son, Joseph Jr., shared season tickets to the Orioles. He admired quarterback Johnny Unitas and running back Lenny Moore when they played for the Colts, and when the Colts were replaced by the Ravens, he traded his allegiance and joined the legions of purple-and-black-clad fans.

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“I had a lot of good memories with my dad, and a lot of them centered around sports,” Mr. Ingolia said of his father. “He wasn’t a get-up-at-the-stadium-and-clap-your-hands-and-shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs fan. But he would let you know how he felt. He would say, ‘Why the heck can’t [former quarterback Joe] Flacco run around anymore? That doesn’t make any sense. You need a quarterback who can move.’ When he saw [current quarterback] Lamar [Jackson], he said, ‘That’s what they needed.’ That’s the kind of fan he was.”

Judge Ingolia, who served as the chief administrative law judge for the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 13 years and persuaded the military branch to base its administrative law judge docketing center in the U.S. Customs House on South Gay Street in Baltimore, died July 26 at his home in Towson due to renal failure. He was 94.

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Judge Walter J. Brudzinski, who succeeded Judge Ingolia as the Coast Guard’s chief administrative law judge, said his predecessor set the tone as the leader of the seven-judge panel that adjudicated cases for the agency.

Joseph Nicholas Ingolia, pictured in October 1977, was chief administrative judge of the U.S. Tax Court from 1970 to 1977, then joined the U.S. Maritime Commission as general counsel from 1977 to 1991.
Joseph Nicholas Ingolia, pictured in October 1977, was chief administrative judge of the U.S. Tax Court from 1970 to 1977, then joined the U.S. Maritime Commission as general counsel from 1977 to 1991. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

“He was a visionary and transformational-style leader, which is what you need in a supervising program like this,” said Judge Brudzinski, who first met Judge Ingolia in December 2002 when the former was interviewed by the latter for an administrative law judge vacancy in the Coast Guard’s Northeast Region office in New York. “He was the chief judge of six other very independent and very experienced people. It’s like herding cats sometimes. You can’t tell these guys what to do because they have decisional independence. … Under him, morale was very good. It was just a big happy family.”

Judge Ingolia was the oldest of two children born to Francis Ingolia, a musician, and the former Maria Schaivetti, a homemaker. Growing up in Little Italy was a carefree experience for Judge Ingolia, according to his son.

“In the summertime on days like this, people would be out all night because it was too hot to go inside,” Mr. Ingolia said from his home in Baltimore. “So he would go out and stay out until 2 in the morning while my great uncles would be hanging around. It was quintessential Little Italy. Everybody knew everybody and took care of everybody.”

Judge Ingolia played baseball and football at Loyola Blakefield High School until graduating in 1943. Shortly afterward, he joined an infantry division of the Army and was stationed in Germany at the end of World War II from 1945 to 1946.

After his discharge, Judge Ingolia attended the University of Maryland’s law school and married the former Maxine Schott in 1950 in Baltimore. He then rejoined the Army and served in a tank battalion during the Korean War until his discharge in 1952 as a lieutenant. After his return, he graduated from Maryland with a law degree.

From 1955 to 1969, Judge Ingolia worked for the Internal Revenue Service’s Baltimore office as a prosecutor specializing in corporate tax law. He then worked on the Senate Finance Committee under U.S. Sen. Russell B. Long, a Louisiana Democrat and helped rewrite the federal tax code from 1969 to 1970.

Judge Ingolia was chief administrative judge of the U.S. Tax Court from 1970 to 1977. He joined the U.S. Maritime Commission as general counsel from 1977 to 1991.

Judge Ingolia became an administrative law judge for the Coast Guard in 1991. Seven years later, he was appointed the chief administrative law judge, a role that he served until his retirement in 2011.

Judge Brudzinski said Judge Ingolia sought to enhance the quality of the administrative law judges’ decisions by supplementing them with attorneys to help provide research for cases. Judge Ingolia also diversified the judges’ judicial skills by having them take on cases for other agencies such as Homeland Security and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“He had that vision,” Judge Brudzinski said. “He was looking for ways to enhance our skills and make the job more enjoyable. He knew that the more different types of cases that you do, the better you get.”

Judge Brudzinski said when judges from Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York traveled to Baltimore for training conferences, Judge Ingolia took them to Little Italy for lunch where he seemed to know every restaurant owner, employee and diner. Judge Ingolia had a knack for connecting with people.

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“He loved his family, and because he was that way, that carried over into the way he led the Coast Guard’s administrative law judge program,” Judge Brudzinski said. “He valued us. He never had a cross word to say about anybody. He always valued everybody, and that was something I always noticed and found that it was just a good leadership trait to have. That was the foundation for building solid, lasting relationships that enabled him to sustain a long and effective leadership of our program.”

In 2007, two retired Coast Guard judges told a congressional oversight committee that the branch’s administrative court system was stacked against civilian defendants. One judge said in a sworn statement that Judge Ingolia pressured her to rule in favor of the Coast Guard no matter the evidence.

Three years later, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general ruled that he found no evidence supporting pro-Coast Guard bias. But the accusations irked Judge Ingolia, his son said.

“It bothered him tremendously because my father married one of the strongest women I know in my mother, and he actually appointed that judge because he felt that they had to expand and that there should be more women on the court and that she was qualified,” Mr. Ingolia said. “I don’t know all the particulars, but it bubbled up and then it went away. It went away because there was no fire where that smoke was.”

Mr. Ingolia said his father loved spending time with his family and playing golf. But he had high expectations regarding his children’s academic standards.

“You were pressed to succeed,” Mr. Ingolia said. “If I got a C, that might as well have been an F. You got A’s and B’s.”

A funeral for Judge Ingolia took place July 31, and he was buried at Moreland Memorial Park Cemetery in Parkville.

In addition to his wife and son, Judge Ingolia is survived by one daughter, Deborah Winpigler of Baltimore; one sister, Joy Warzeha of San Antonio; one sister-in-law, Beverly Myers of Owings Mills; four granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.

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