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Marvin Mandel's unheralded triumph

Funeral services for former Governor Marvin Mandel at the Sol Levinson & Brothers Funeral Home in Pikesville.

One of the bills the General Assembly will consider and probably enact during the 2016 session, which begins Wednesday, is a simplification and reorganization of all the Maryland statutes dealing with alcoholic beverages. The enactment of this statute will mark the culmination of a 45-year effort begun by Marvin Mandel to reorganize, streamline and recodify all of the statutes of Maryland.

Every year, the legislature passes hundreds of statutes, which become law after the governor signs them. For many years, the Maryland statutes were collected in black bound volumes found in all public libraries and law libraries. The statutes were intended to be well organized in separate articles, each article to include all the statutes dealing with one subject. For example, all statutes relating to taxes were to be placed in a tax article, and all statutes dealing with criminal law in a criminal law article. Unfortunately, the Maryland Code, the name familiarly given to the entire collection, fell into disorganization, and then chaos. The old code consisted of over 100 different articles, each one given a title that was frequently misleading, and with any given subject often set forth in 10 different volumes.

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The process of modernizing, reorganizing and simplifying statutes is a tedious one, and not one given to those who seek fame or headlines. A gubernatorial commission had been appointed in 1966 by Gov. J. Millard Tawes to reorganize and clarify the hodgepodge of Maryland statutes relating to one topic: the estates of deceased individuals; the last previous comprehensive statute on that subject had been enacted in 1798.

The chairman of the commission was a former chief judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, William L. Henderson, and the commission was known as the Henderson Commission. Members worked for several years to produce a coherent, streamlined statute. When the bill was considered by the General Assembly in 1968 and the early months of 1969, there were many lawyers and other individuals who thought it would be impossible to enact such a bill, no matter how well intentioned, consisting of more than 100 pages. Many had become accustomed to the old chaos and wanted no change at all. One of the leaders of the commission was the late Roger D. Redden, certainly one of the outstanding lawyers in Maryland for many years. Through Redden's efforts, Marvin Mandel, who was speaker of the House of Delegates before he became governor in January of 1969, was persuaded that although the Henderson Commission bill had little or no interest to the media, its passage would be of undeniable importance and benefit to the people of Maryland. And so, on March 24, 1969, just a few weeks after he became governor and after both houses of the General Assembly passed the Henderson Commission bill, Marvin Mandel signed this path-breaking legislation.

But Governor Mandel did not stop with that one statute. Even though the efforts to reform estates law (an area that affects every Marylander sooner or later) received little public attention, the governor understood that "the entire Maryland Code needs a complete reorganization and recodification." As recommended by a law review article co-authored by Mr. Redden, the governor believed that an independent Code Revision Commission should be appointed to revise and reorganize the entire tens of thousands of pages of Maryland statutes. Many people wondered why Governor Mandel, a quintessential politician, would be so interested in such a lugubrious topic.

The governor was persuaded that simplifying into one article all of the materials on the same subject would be beneficial to the entire citizenry. After the passage of the Henderson Commission Bill, which received almost universal acclaim, he promptly appointed such a commission; thus far, it has already written and the General Assembly has enacted 35 articles, published in 43 volumes.

The commission's work, it is hoped, will be complete in the first few months of this year, when the last subject (the Article on Alcoholic Beverages) is placed in one volume of the Maryland Code, bound in red.

None of this could have been accomplished without Governor Mandel's embracing the notion that laws should be simple and well-organized. The 56th governor of Maryland died on Aug. 30. He served as governor for 10 years, and his administration was outstanding for many salutary reasons. He reorganized the executive branch of the government to make it much more efficient, he established the mass transit system of Maryland, and he fully funded a state-wide public school construction program.

All of these accomplishments, and many more, were duly recorded in the obituaries and speeches after his death. But left out were his efforts regarding Maryland's statutes. It is well, therefore, to pause for a moment as the General Assembly prepares to convene to remember this stellar accomplishment.

Shale Stiller, a partner in DLA Piper's Baltimore office, is a longtime trustee of the Johns Hopkins University. His email is shale.stiller@dlapiper.com.

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