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Richard Rombro, retired Baltimore City judge and advocate for progressive causes, dies

Judge Richard Rombro served in the House of Delegates from 1958 to 1962.
Judge Richard Rombro served in the House of Delegates from 1958 to 1962.

Richard Rombro, a retired judge who was an advocate for progressive causes and who formerly served in the Maryland General Assembly, died of stroke complications Nov. 17 at Roland Park Place. The former Mount Washington and Park Heights resident was 91.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Benjamin Rombro, who owned a bakery, and his wife, Anna Schwartz, a homemaker. A 1946 graduate of Williamsport High School, he served in the Army shortly after World War II.

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Judge Rombro moved to Baltimore to attend the University of Maryland School of Law, where he was a student editor of the Law Review and class vice president. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1953.

He practiced law in downtown Baltimore on Calvert Street and was a founding partner of Wartzman, Rombro, Rudd & Omansky, and worked in tort and administrative law. He was also a lobbyist in the Maryland General Assembly.

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“He was quiet, intellectual and studious,” said Senior Judge Robert Steinberg of the District Court of Maryland Baltimore County. “He was a good trial lawyer with a broad client base. He represented the Little Italy restaurants and billboard advertisers. He did accident and zoning work, too. He was always reading the Harvard Law Review.”

Judge Rombro won election to the Maryland House of Delegates from a Northwest Baltimore district and served from 1958 to 1962. He sponsored legislation to abolish capital punishment and worked to pass a public accommodation act to guarantee equal rights for all people regardless of their race.

“He worked to require the state to pay the same wages to women as it paid to men who did the same job,” said his grandson, Joseph “Joe” Rombro, a Pikesville resident.

Judge Rombro served on the Maryland Legislative Council, the Committee to Study Capital Punishment, and the Governor’s Commission on Provident Hospital.

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He was named to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in 1989 and retired under mandatory retirement in 1999. He was a senior judge until 2007.

“He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humor and fairness,” said retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. “He went on the bench after acquiring years of experience and expertise. He had a distinguished career as an attorney first and then brought that knowledge with him.

“He was never too busy to help out his colleagues all over the state.”

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Judge Stuart R. Berger said: “Richard was a man of dignity, integrity and unbridled compassion. He was a lovely person and an extraordinary trial judge. He treated people who appeared before him the way he wanted to be treated. He was known for fairness, impartiality and superior judgment. He embraced civil liberties cases and he personally transcended issues of race and cultures. He just loved people.”

His grandson Joseph Rombro said: “My grandfather was recognized as a successful attorney and lobbyist, a progressive legislator, and a brilliant, thoughtful, and fair judge. Everyone appearing in his courtroom was given a fair opportunity to present their case, was afforded honest and legitimate consideration of their arguments, and was extended courtesy from the bench.

“He loved serving as a judge, and referred to it as the crown of his professional career. He thoroughly enjoyed serving the public and working to make society a better place.”

Colleagues said Judge Rombro earned the admiration and respect of his colleagues on the bench, his law clerks, and counsel who appeared before him. They said he balanced a keen legal mind with his quick wit and sense of humor.

In 2009 Judge Rombro, who was then retired, told a Sun reporter: “It’s not really difficult to determine whether someone is guilty. The hard question is what to do with them after that.”

Friends described him as a proud Democrat, who pushed for progressive legislation in the 1950s before federal laws arrived in the 1960s and 1970s.

Among his notable cases was Williams v. Glendening, a 1998 case ruling unconstitutional Maryland’s anti-sodomy laws, which prohibited consensual acts between homosexuals but not heterosexuals. “The ruling clarifies the language of the anti-sodomy law,” said a 1998 Sun story.

As a senior judge, he oversaw the city’s asbestos docket, involving tens of thousands of cases.

He worked to bring electronic filing to Baltimore City’s asbestos docket, which became one of the largest eFile dockets in the country.

In retirement, he moved to Lake Worth, Florida, and returned to Maryland periodically for mediation and arbitration work.

Judge Rombro supported many Jewish organizations in Baltimore and Israel, including serving on the boards and as members of many synagogues. He was associated with the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School Scholarship Fund, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Maryland Youth and the Law, and Israel Bonds

His interests included reading history, photography, travel, tennis and golf. He spent time with his family and enjoyed classical music.

Friends said he liked to have lunches at Attman’s delicatessen and would spend time in its Kibbutz Room.

Survivors include his three sons, Allan Rombro of Baltimore, Charles Rombro of Silver Spring and Jay Rombro of Baltimore; two stepsons, Richard Kandel of North Potomac and Howard Kandel of Bethesda; a brother, David Rombro of Baltimore; 10 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. His wife of 33 years, Iris Sandra Kelman, a banker, died in 2017. A previous marriage to Joan Kaplan ended in divorce.

Services were private.

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