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Katrina J. Dennis, trial attorney, university system regent and mentor to young lawyers and women, dies

Katrina J. Dennis was a well respected lawyer who served on governmental boards and was recalled for her sense of style and willingness to mentor young lawyers and students.
Katrina J. Dennis was a well respected lawyer who served on governmental boards and was recalled for her sense of style and willingness to mentor young lawyers and students. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Katrina J. Dennis, a trial attorney, regent of the University System of Maryland and mentor to students, died of breast cancer complications Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Owings Mills resident was 40.

Born in Miami, she was the daughter of Kevin L. Jackson and Charlene Strozier. After her mother’s marriage to Dave K. Johnson, she considered both men her fathers. She was raised on the Barksdale Air Force Base and was a graduate of Bossier High School in Bossier City, Louisiana. She was a high school cheerleader.

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Ms. Dennis earned a psychology degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

“After coming to Baltimore for law school, she fell in love with the area and remained here,” said her mother, Charlene Johnson, who lives in Hampton, Virginia.

Ms. Dennis began as a law clerk for Judge Evelyn O. Cannon at the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. She joined the Kramon & Graham, P.A., law firm as an associate and rose to become one of its partners. She worked in general litigation.

“She had zero enemies and only friends,” said David J. Shuster, a Kramon & Graham managing principal. “She was a well connected lawyer and had relationships with many influential people and at the same time was unassuming. She was poised and won people over because she had such a nice way about her. You couldn’t help but like her.”

Katrina J. Dennis, an attorney with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, was known for her her "outstanding work in higher education and labor and employment practices” and "fabulous personal style," according to Jason M. St. John, the firm's litigation department chair.
Katrina J. Dennis, an attorney with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, was known for her her "outstanding work in higher education and labor and employment practices” and "fabulous personal style," according to Jason M. St. John, the firm's litigation department chair. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

After several years she moved her practice to the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP.

“She was known for her outstanding work in higher education and labor and employment practices,” said Jason M. St. John, Saul Ewing’s litigation department chair. “She was a passionate advocate for her clients. She loved to solve problems and be able to use the law to help others. She also recognized it was a privilege to be an attorney and was a role model and in giving back to others. She felt it was an obligation to help the community and she did that in a myriad of ways.”

“Katrina was a warrior. She was fiercely protective of those around her, yet I’ve never heard anyone utter a negative word about her. It was remarkable for me to hear of the number of young lawyers who told me how she had touched their lives in meaningful ways. She also had a fabulous personal style. She was impeccable. She was always dressed to the nines.”

Her attorney, Robert “Bob” Weltchek said of Ms. Dennis: "She was meticulous in her appearance and she was meticulous in her thoughts. She was an impressive woman. She did not waste words and did not engage indulge in idle chitchat. She had tremendous common sense and what she had to say was spot-on.”

Said a friend, Sean Malone. a lawyer: “As a trial attorney she was a convincing advocate. She was an absolute fighter. She was inquisitive. She asked questions that elicited information that she quickly processed. She had a tremendous work ethic. She just kept moving.”

Lisa Harris Jones, a close friend and former sister-in-law, said: “Katrina was a rock star. She had a special interest in helping young women achieve and was interested that they receive a good education. She would take them under her wing and open them up to the arts. She was smart and hardworking.”

Lawyer Katrina J. Dennis was a regent of the University System of Maryland and served on the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission and the board of directors of the Maryland Transportation Authority. “She was a well connected lawyer and had relationships with many influential people and at the same time was unassuming. She was poised and won people over because she had such a nice way about her," said David J. Shuster, a Kramon & Graham managing principal.
Lawyer Katrina J. Dennis was a regent of the University System of Maryland and served on the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission and the board of directors of the Maryland Transportation Authority. “She was a well connected lawyer and had relationships with many influential people and at the same time was unassuming. She was poised and won people over because she had such a nice way about her," said David J. Shuster, a Kramon & Graham managing principal. (Photo by Colby Ware, for The Baltimore Sun)

In 2015 Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Ms. Dennis to the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission. In 2017 he also named her a regent of the University System of Maryland.

She was also named a 2017 Distinguished Woman by the Girls Scouts of Central Maryland. She was a fellow of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed her to the board of directors of the Maryland Transportation Authority.

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She was a member of the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program. She served on the board of governors of the Baltimore City Head Start program, and the executive committees of the Baltimore Chapter of The Links Inc. and the Omega Eta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Ms. Dennis attended charity fundraising events where she was photographed in stylish attire. In a 2013 Baltimore Sun article, Ms. Dennis told a fashion reporter: "Style is not what you buy. It’s the attitude and confidence you have when executing a particular look.”

She was a member of New Psalmist Baptist Church.

A scholarship has been created in her name at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 14 at the March Life Tribute Center at 5616 Old Court Road in Randallstown. A family hour begins at 10 a.m. that day.

In addition to her mother, survivors include her fathers; and two brothers, Dave K. Johnson Jr. of Washington, D.C., and Kevin L. Jackson Jr. of Sanford, Florida. She remained a close friend to Damon Dennis to whom she had been married, but divorced.

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