It is not often one gets to witness the hanging of a judge. However, this was recently the case (pardon the pun) at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
The Hon. Roger W. Titus, who over 10 years ago was appointed a federal judge to the Maryland court, was about to be hung. However, he wouldn’t be alone in the process. He would join three previous hangings in this relatively new federal courthouse building in Greenbelt that was a Baltimore-located institution for more than 200 years.
Titus, who with his wife of 52 years, Catherine, (she is chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals) and their children, Richard and Mark Titus and Paula Titus Laboy, have called the Potomac area home for 22 years and he will be the first to tell you, “I am a life-long Montgomery County resident.”
He will also tell you that he and his friend and fellow Judge, Peter J. Messitte, are both Bethesda Chevy Chase High School graduates, and don’t forget it. In the class of 1959, they were among those who heard then Sen. John F. Kennedy deliver the commencement address. “Messitte was so inspired by the speech given in the boys gymnasium at BCC, that following his graduation from college, he joined the Peace Corps,” Titus related, adding, “he is also the guy who urged me to apply for the federal judgeship in Greenbelt.”
The gavel must have slammed down with a bang. Titus, now 70 years old, the age federal judges are allowed to apply for “Senior Status,” had been practicing law in Rockville for 37 years, many of those years in what was once the Suburban Trust Company building. It was he who recently remarked, as if it were a personal loss, “Go to Rockville and see what has happened. They have torn down most everything including my old office.”
But Senior U.S. District Judge Messitte’s persuasive advice to then attorney Roger Titus prevailed and he was appointed the 42nd Federal District judge in Maryland. Sworn in at a formal service at the Greenbelt courthouse, the two Bethesda Chevy Chase High School classmates often refer to the occasion as their “high school reunion.”
Also numbered among the five distinguished speakers at the May 8, more-than-an-hour- long program, was the Hon. Paul Mannes, a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge whose former law practice offices were in Rockville. During his remarks, Mannes made reference to the time when he noticed there were very few international law firms in Rockville that included a cable address on their letterheads. He admitted to taking it upon himself to stop by the local Western Union office and arrange for a cable address, “Rock Law,” to add to his legal stationery head.
Mannes, in his address to more than a hundred colleagues, close friends and family attending “the judge’s hanging,” suggested that attorneys are subject to whimsy. Furthermore, Titus, upon hearing of his friend’s mischief, also visited Western Union. He arranged for a “Law Rock” letterhead. Not that they were ever used, but Titus never forgot the incident. Years later, while traveling in London, he cabled back to Rockville with the message, “ Law Rock dominates.”
Even judges enjoy a little fun. U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day, during his tribute to Titus, referred to a 6 a.m. program in the courthouse exercise room, in which they both participated, as “our breakfast club.”
The reference to numerous legal pranks was by far outnumbered with praise and admiration for the “hanging judge’s” remarkable career, not only in a legal capacity, but as a philanthropist. Titus served on the board of directors at Suburban Hospital for 14 years, including times during expansion programs and three years as the board chairman. He was also president of the Maryland State Bar Association and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, were a few of his volunteer endeavors mentioned by the program speakers.
Of all the speakers at the ceremony the only one who spoke extemporaneously, sans any notes whatsoever and seemingly straight from the heart, was Montgomery County Executive Isaiah “Ike” Leggett.
“He was there for me in one of my worst hours,” Leggett said, prior to praising the judge as “one of the best lawyers I have ever known.” Leggett not only earned law degrees from Howard University and George Washington University, but has taught law, thus adding substance to his remarks. In return, Titus was later heard telling a friend, “He [Ike] has an amazing photographic memory, the likes of which I have never before known. He’s not only brilliant, but such a modest guy.”
When it came time for the “judge’s hanging” the Titus family gathered around a life-like oil painting by portrait artist Ned Bittinger whose resume includes, among many others, three former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, III, and Lawrence Eagleburger. Bittinger, of Santa Fe, N.M., spent nine months on the Titus job, including numerous sittings by the judge at the Greenbelt courthouse where the finished product will hang.
At the reception following the unveiling, Titus explained he will have “a full docket of cases for, at the very least, another year.” Perhaps after that he and his wife will find more time to spend at their vacation home in Vero Beach, Fla., where, as he said, “the weather won’t be as horrible as this past winter in Potomac.” Trips to the golf course will replace trips on the snow-covered Washington beltway.
And perhaps when he is recognized by his friends and associates on the golf course, or has his photo taken of a spectacular shot to be hung in the clubhouse, it will be noted as the unveiling of a golf enthusiast. In the formal program of Titus’ “Portrait Ceremony” the occasion was accurately called the “Unveiling of the Portrait.”
But, be honest. Witnessing “the hanging of a judge” is a real gotcha.