Historical Perspectives: “What About Bob” Steinberg

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York. Wm. Shakespeare

Some judges sit for a number of years, retire and their names, their presence and aura fade quickly like the sun dropping below the earth until its red blaze is no longer.  The aura and presence of Bob Steinberg will shine longer than that of most departed jurists.  He is a complex, complicated man of quality and these few words will be inadequate.  I see Bob wearing his brown fedora and freshly starched self- ironed white shirt, accented with a tie of subtle colors, with brown well creased slacks, an appearance not striking, but neat and pleasant.  But there is so much beyond the matched ensemble which would require a book of thousands of pages.  The words here are just the book cover.

Picture16Bob stepped down from the Baltimore County District bench on July 7, 2014.  William Wordsworth coined the expression “Scholars and gentlemen.”  This is an apt description of Judge Bob Steinberg.  A certain District Court jurist would remark when confronted by a jury trial prayer from defense counsel, “You’re taking the case to a court with judges $10,000 a year smarter, but all of them together in one room aren’t as smart as Judge Steinberg!”  Not too reserved Gary Bernstein reflects, “Nothing I could do in my boisterous, unruly court manner could ever cause Bob to be anything less than the consummate gentleman.” It didn’t stop in court but was his perpetual persona of kindness and generosity. Lenny Shapiro says, “Bob is simply the most ethical person I ever met.”  The four Russell children were the recipients of an annual cash birthday stipend from Uncle Bob until they reached their respective twenty first birthdays. Having no children of his own, he was Uncle Bob to many.

He early began watching Perry Mason on the black and white TV screen of the late 50s and early 60s.  He thrilled to the courtroom drama as Perry continued to best the District Attorney. Bob decided that he wanted a courtroom career, of dueling with law books and words of persuasion.   Always an honor student, he favored the liberal arts courses of English, Social Studies and especially History, during his twelve years at the Park School in Brooklandville.   He learned about great men and leaders of character.  He was impressed by the steely, plain speaking character of Harry S. Truman of the “show me” state of Missouri. Bob determined that he too would also be straight forward and honest.  President Truman’s picture adorned a prime spot on the wall of Judge Steinberg’s chambers.  Bob would later graduate, with Honors, in History from Washington University in St. Louis, of Missouri, of course.  He admired Generals who were leaders of directness and courage. Not surprisingly he has watched the movie Patton enough times to recite Patton speeches to the court house army.

To be a successful soldier you must know history. General George S. Patton

At the Park school, an idyllic leafy, hilly campus, he was not a campus jock because of a congenital heart malady. Parents would deliver their precious, privileged progeny in a caravan of BMWs, Mercedes and Jags. Ignoring the abundant affluence, Bob would retreat to the office of the campus newspaper. The future judge had a Nikon camera and made the world a sunny day with photos for the weekly Park Journal.  His best friend at Park was Bobby Frankel. They were in class together for twelve years.  Frankel worked evenings learning the car business at Penn Pontiac.  He would later master the business of selling high end automobiles and continued to cultivate his business acumen at the University of Baltimore.  Judge Bob would enroll at the University of Baltimore law school after his sojourn at Washington University.  For years Bob could be seen behind the wheel of his Frankel Cadillac, fedora firmly in place, brim just low enough to allow a sweeping view of the streets of north Baltimore.  The first to arrive in the morning among the Towson judges, he carefully backed the Cadillac against the far wall of the Courthouse garage. His day trips would include a drive to GBMC to visit his wife, an oncologist who never seemed to leave her office. He would travel to his mother in law’s to retrieve his beloved dog, Daisy. He often would return to GBMC to bring dinner to Ruthie. He and Daisy would await her return in the evening, often after midnight, during which time Bob fought sleep by reading advanced appellate reports . 

Bob was always making friends and collecting friends of character and prominence.  He was 15 years old when he became a clerk in Councilman Don Schaefer’s office.  Schaefer was another Truman/Patton figure who spoke forthrightly, honestly, expected men to follow the orders, and got things done.  As a judge, Bob got lots of things done, well  beyond moving large district court dockets.  From 1999 through 2003, Bob helped rewrite the entire Public Safety Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.  On the committee with Bob was present Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Mary Ellen Barbera.  Judge Barbera recollects, ”Bob was our leader.  A scholar with tireless energy, he was the driving force.”  Appointed to the Baltimore County bench on June 30, 1998 by Governor Parris Glendenning, he was soon made Chairman of the Parole and Probation Committee.  He later was on the Criminal Law and Procedure Committee. 

All District Court judges applaud his very productive assignment on the Judicial Compensation Committee.  He remained on that committee until his retirement.  His efforts were instrumental in ensuring that salary raises on the four levels of courts would be made evenly for District, Circuit and Appellate courts. This policy is in effect until July 2015. Judge Peter Krauser, now chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, says, “Bob made us all appreciate that the District Court, as the workhorse of the state court system, should be treated equally with all the courts in regard to wage raises.”  Bob spent a decade as one of the three trustees of the state Public Defender system.  The tremendous expansion of the state Public Defender Office was often viewed with skepticism by a state Bar Association that was fueled by legal fees.  But Bob helped shepherd the growth to satisfy the constitutional necessity of the right to counsel.

A President cannot always be popular. Harry S. Truman

In 2007, Bob was awarded the Anselm Sodaro Judicial Civility Award.  In 2014, the Baltimore County Bar Association awarded him the Earl Plumhoff Professionalism Award.  Despite being the epitome of a legal scholar, with cites and precedents swirling in his head, he humbly would remain mute and let a lawyer try his case.  He never would make pompous interventions or surly interrogations of lawyers or litigants. If an attorney were not faring well, he would say, ”You’ve done a nice job counsel, but regretfully the facts and law are not on your side today.” He rarely failed to compliment all counsel.  Uniquely, on our bench, Bob would read and research all his civil cases weeks before trial.  Yellow legal pages, with his scrawled notes decipherable only to him, overflowed from the court files like an overstuffed taco.

Bob is the first of two children of Dr. Murray and Frances Steinberg, arriving in this world on an Indian summer day of October 9, 1949. His sister Carol was born two years later.  Bob acquired another friend of leadership qualities when a young attorney joined the staff of the Baltimore City State’s Attorneys office, where Bob was honing his trial skills. His name was Martin O’Malley.  When Bob finally ascended to the bench, he had a flourishing criminal defense practice with his law firm. His other partners were more attuned to civil practice. O’Malley was a struggling attorney at the time, subsisting more on his City Council salary then his law practice.  Bob turned his entire criminal portfolio over to Martin.  Governor O’Malley remained a close friend who repeatedly urged Bob to file for an Appellate seat.  But Bob declined saying he just preferred the action of the true “people’s” court.  On many an unknown evening, Bob in his Frankel Cadillac, arrived stealthily at Government House in Annapolis. He would have lively exchanges with the leader of the state. Bob would still usually arrive home before Ruthie.

Bob never forgets kindnesses and friends and loyalty is sacred.  He frequently dined with Governor Schaefer in Schaefer’s later years when he had retired to an assisted living facility. He would pick up the Governor’s former secretary en-route in the Frankel Cadillac.  When Dick Rudolph, the unofficial Mayor of Towson, was dying at Good Samaritan, Bob was there daily.  When former law partner, Howard Cassin, passed away untimely, Bob openly grieved for several months, well past Shiva.  When my wife was stricken with a cerebral aneurism, he beat me to the hospital.  Upon my sixtieth birthday, he paid for a lavish luncheon at Libertore’s in Timonium, allowing an expansive guest list.  His acts of generosity are legion. He won’t discuss his extensive financial support for family and causes.

Do it now. Wm. Donald Schaefer

All of his many accomplishments are secondary to his marriage to Dr. Ruth Kantor in 1987. Dr. Ruth remains as the last sole practitioner at GBMC.  She has at present over 500 patients.  Although having health issues of her own, she has not cut back as her husband had hoped.  Bob retired primarily for his health issues, most notably the heart ailment which required medical intervention.  He is certain that his heart specialist saved his life. There was also the stress and sameness of the daily grind which affected him mentally as well as physically. And hoping to spend more time with Ruth was also a factor in his retirement decision.  He is still in a recovery process, but is optimistic that he can return as a recalled judge later this year.

In addition to Truman, Patton and Schaefer, Bob has role models from the judiciary. Judge Edgar Silver was like a second father to him, and was a model of civility in the courtroom.  Many evenings would see the Cadillac arrive at Edgar’s Mt. Washington home for mutual consort and comfort.  Bob Gerstung was a judge of humor, and common sense, that many of us admired and emulated.  His widow, Betsy, was present at Bob’s Investiture.  Retired Judge Joe Murphy was a jurist of great scholarship, with whom Bob served on the Baltimore City Prosecutor’s staff.  Joe was the Deputy State’s Attorney, and their friendship has grown over the years. These good men all lighted the way for Bob. Judge Bob Steinberg, himself, remains a shining sun which doesn’t fade.  He lights up the streets and passageways of all of us who call him friend.