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Former District Court Judge Richard O. Motsay Sr., who directed bail reform project, dies

Richard O. Motsay Sr., shown in 1978, was a Baltimore City District Court judge from 1978 to 1995.
Richard O. Motsay Sr., shown in 1978, was a Baltimore City District Court judge from 1978 to 1995. (HOTZ / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Richard O. Motsay Sr., a retired Baltimore City District Court judge who presided over housing cases and was known for his ability to keep a courtroom calm, died of a blood disorder Monday at his Lutherville home. He was 96.

Born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Joseph Mazzei and his wife, Rose. His parents later changed their name.

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He was a graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and served as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

In a University of Baltimore interview, he told of how he wanted to become a lawyer when he was in the third grade.

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Richard O. Motsay, pictured in 1978, was project director of the Baltimore Bail Project and director of the Pre-Trial Release Program.
Richard O. Motsay, pictured in 1978, was project director of the Baltimore Bail Project and director of the Pre-Trial Release Program. (HOTZ / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

He then moved to Baltimore and earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Baltimore in 1949. He was a 1952 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he was selected for the Heuisler Honor Society.

He married Lucy Regina Brailer, an O’Neill’s department store sales associate. They later settled on Plymouth Road in Hamilton.

Mr. Motsay practiced law from his office in the Fidelity Building on Charles Street.

From 1959 to 1963, he was the appeals counsel to the Board of Liquor License Commissioners of Baltimore.

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In 1963, he became a prosecutor in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.

In 1966, he was appointed the State’s Attorney assistant director at the Baltimore Bail Project, a bail reform program that established a means of providing immediate bail for people of reasonable risk. The aim of the project was to lower costs of jailing defendants and reduce overcrowding in correctional facilities.

In 1967, Mr. Motsay became the program’s project director. In 1968, he was named director of the Pre-Trial Release Program.

His son Richard O. Motsay Jr. said: “The program became a model for similar programs in other Maryland jurisdictions and across the nation and in the world. My father also helped create a four-county bail reform system in North Carolina.”

Mr. Motsay graduated from the Institute for Court Management in 1974. He served as a member of the national steering committee on pretrial services and was a member of the national task force to establish a Pretrial Justice Institute.

In 1978, acting Gov. Blair Lee III appointed him a judge for the Baltimore City District Court.

For many years he handled cases related to housing issues. News stories told of how he would leave the bench and make on-site appraisals and inspections.

Judge Motsay served in that position until 1995 when he turned 70 years old and was required to retire due to court age requirements. However, he continued to serve as a visiting retired judge throughout Maryland into his 80s.

He was recalled for his courtroom demeanor and ability to quiet a situation.

“I was sitting in court when a woman sued an auto mechanic. She was nervous and shaking. Judge Motsay calmed her down by saying, ‘What kind of car was it?’” said Mark Adams, a former attorney. “He engaged her in conversation, quieted her, and he said to the mechanic, ‘Why don’t you just pay her? He could take a courtroom and turn it from a confrontational forum into a conversational forum. He was definitely a people’s judge.”

Judge Motsay wrote articles for the American and Maryland State Bar Association and was the author of a study on the civil, criminaland grand jury systems in the 8th Judicial Circuit of Maryland.

He was a member of the American Legion Hamilton Post 20 where he served on the executive committee as adjutant and second vice commander. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus Santa Maria Council, the Holy Name Society. He was named Holy Name Man of the Year.

He was also active in the Coggins-O’Malley political organization in Northeast Baltimore.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 24 years, Jacqueline Leone, a beauty shop and Valley Cab owner; three other sons, James W. Motsay of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Charles E. Motsay of Catonsville and Patrick J. Motsay of Forest Hill; four daughters, Rosemary T. Ranier of Lutherville, Sharon M. Tobin of Perry Hall, Lucy A. Rutishauser of Timonium and Joan L. Brown of Bel Air; 20 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

He is also survived by stepsons, Jack J. Leone of Annapolis and Jeffrey A. Leone of Owings Mills; two brothers, Francis Motsay of Paducah, Kentucky, and Robert Motsay of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania; and his sister, Marie Carlson of Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

His first wife of 38 years, Lucy Brailer, a homemaker, died in 1988.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Ware Ave. in Towson.

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